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Saturday, July 26, 2014

Gluten-Free Blueberry-Peach Crisp

Summer is all about fresh fruit - our produce box recently included a ton of peaches and blueberries and so it seemed like a good time to create a dessert.  I grew up on my mother's fruit crisps, and really wanted to make some, but I didn't wish to include a lot of extra sugar or use wheat flour.

I planned to make it entirely grain free but I found I couldn't bring myself to not include a bit of rolled oats, for nostalgia's sake - it is perfectly fine to leave them out.  They're there for texture - a chewy oatmeal cookie feel that brings back all sorts of comfort food memories for me.

I sliced the peaches, after washing them, without trying to peel them, and this worked out just fine!  I'm all about not creating extra work for myself when it doesn't matter.

The resulting crisp let both the blueberry and peach flavors shine, and as you can see, the blueberries gave the peaches a rosy color.  Since nuts and almond flour make up the majority of the topping, there is even a nice protein serving hiding in this dessert.

Gluten-Free Blueberry Peach Crisp
serves 4-6

1 tsp coconut oil, to grease pie plate
1 pint of blueberries
2-3 cups sliced peaches (about 8 small peaches)
1 1/4 cups almond flour
1/2 cup chopped walnuts or pecans
1/4 cup old fashioned rolled oats, uncooked
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/4 cup coconut oil, melted
1/4 cup maple syrup or honey

Wash fruit.  Slice peaches into 1/8s. Preheat oven to 350F.

Grease a glass pie plate or square glass casserole with 1 tsp. coconut oil. Combine fruit in pie plate, and set aside.

In a medium bowl, combine almond flour, chopped nuts, oats and salt.  Add coconut oil and maple syrup.
 Mix with a fork to blend - don't over work it, just make sure almond flour is moistened.

Ready for the oven.
Use a pair of spoons to drop tablespoon sized portions of the crisp mixture on top of fruit. (Use one spoon to scoop up a portion, and  the other to help scrape it off that spoon so it drops onto the fruit.)

Bake for 45 minutes, or until fruit is bubbly and topping is browned.  I suggest checking it at about 30 minutes - if it is browning too quickly, you may want to cover it lightly with foil to finish baking.

Let cool until warm and serve as desired, or chill and serve cold.

I was really pleased with the way this topping turned out, and I'll be trying this again with later seasonal fruits (apples, etc) and also may try a winter version in a few months with a selection of dried fruits.

We enjoyed ours with fresh whipped cream, and it would be delicious served still warm with ice cream.  Or whipped coconut milk if you're not doing dairy.  For that matter, it was quite delicious for breakfast the next morning with a dollop of thickened yogurt.

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Friday, July 25, 2014

Review: Doggie Lawn

Many people who would like to have a dog choose not to because they believe their living situation doesn’t allow it. People who live in apartments or condominiums without yards and those who leave their house empty for hours every work day may be particularly hesitant.

As the owner of a geriatric beagle, I was intrigued by the Doggie Lawn concept. Sadie has never been fully housebroken—she will go inside when left alone for many hours—and having a patch of grass indoors for her to use was quite appealing. As she’s gotten older (our best guess is 14, but she was a rescue dog so we do not know for certain), she has taken to peeing inside sometimes even when we’re here.

First things first: Doggie Lawn delivers exactly what it promises. If you sign up for this subscription service, you will get a patch of hydroponically-grown grass once a month, or more often if you desire. You can lay it down in your chosen location for your dog to use when needed.

The product is high quality. It arrives fresh and green and healthy. Because it’s not traditional sod, the growth medium is clean.

To use, you detach the top of the box by cutting the tape, and leave the grass inside the lower half. That provides a frame and a base for it. Place it in a location your dog can reach, and throw it away when the grass begins to turn brown.

I give the product an A+. My dog, however, is another story.

When my Doggie Lawn arrived, I learned the first lesson other buyers need to know: Open it quickly. I was not quite ready to begin training Sadie with it, and so it sat in the box for a couple of weeks before I opened it, and once I did I discovered it had all turned brown.

The company generously sent out a new one, and I set it up right away. The grass is rooted in a soil-like growth medium, but it is not actual dirt, so there is no risk of bringing in bugs or worms with it.

Following the company’s guidelines, I placed the box in an area that Sadie had already used, so that it would not automatically seem out of bounds. Then I introduced her to it by calling her over to it. When she sniffed and discovered there were no treats to be had, she started to walk away disappointed.

Just... no.
I picked her up and set her on the grass, to show her that getting on it was acceptable. She looked disturbed and stepped off as soon as I let go (so no picture).

I tried again. She hid under the coffee table.

Doggie Lawn provides a set of training guidelines, and even offers live training support if you need it. Many, maybe most, dogs will eventually learn to use the grass. However, some dogs are going to be more easily trained to use it than others, and some—especially old, stubborn beagles—may never get the point.

I followed the training tips the company provides, including scenting the grass with her own urine and trying to associate it in her beagley mind with urination time. We even tried putting a leaf onto it so it felt more like her familiar outdoor environment (our own idea, and it didn't work). She went on the floor near the box a couple of times, but seemed to continue to regard the Doggie Lawn itself as off-limits. After two weeks of this, I concluded she just wasn’t going to make the connection. 

I want to emphasize, though, that the failure was mine and the dog's, not the product.

I think Doggie Lawn would be most effective for puppies and young dogs who can be trained to use it from an early age. If you’re an apartment dweller with a puppy, the product should work quite well for you. If you have a housebroken dog who is several years old, it might or might not, depending on how open-minded the dog is.

Disposal is easy: The box is recyclable. The grass should be thrown in the trash if it has been used. If your dog is also a hard case like mine, unused Doggie Lawn should be compostable.

Doggie Lawn offers two sizes and monthly or twice-monthly delivery. Prices vary depending on location, with higher prices for addresses farther from the company’s southern California headquarters.  Once a month delivery of the small box (which is what I received) starts at $29 per month, and large once a month delivery of  the large box starts at $39 per month.

If you’re considering getting a dog but circumstances such as not having a yard, or being away from home all day, are causing you to hesitate, Doggie Lawn might provide a solution.

Doggie Lawn Website
Doggie Lawn on Facebook

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Thursday, July 24, 2014

Juniper Ale Braised Kielbasa and Cabbage

We actually managed to stick mostly to our meal plan this last week, and today and over the next few days, I'll be sharing a couple recipes that we particularly enjoyed.

Meanwhile, my meal plan for the next little while is still loosely based on the two-week menu I posted a couple weeks ago, but with room to switch things up as needed.   Right now, 'as needed' means that it is getting toward the end of the month, I have a large stash of edibles already on hand, and using what I have to avoid unnecessary shopping trumps establishing a new plan and sticking with it.

My freezer stock is good enough to see us through at least a couple weeks, as long as I don't mind cooking some larger cuts to make them into multiple meals - and we do still get our weekly box of goodies to keep us in fresh fruits and vegetables.  I'll be skipping that next Wednesday - it'll be the 5th Wednesday of the month, and I'm just not budgeted for that.

So, this plan covers the next two weeks - far enough to get us to our next grocery delivery.  There may be a couple small grocery runs to cover an item here or there, but for the most part, this is using what I have on hand.

Wednesday, 7/23
Honey Spiced Chicken Thighs
Coconut Milk Quinoa
Roasted Sweet Potatoes

Thursday, 7/24
Slow Cooker BBQ Brisket & Onions
Corn on the Cob
Tossed Salad

Friday, 7/25
with Coleslaw

Blanch greens for the freezer

Saturday, 7/26
Lemon Roasted Whole Chicken
Sauteed Summer Squash Medley
Fruit Salad with Coconut

Sunday, 7/27
(out most of the day)

Monday, 7/28
Spaghetti Squash 
with Ground Pork and Greens

Make broth of chicken carcass

Tuesday, 7/29

Wednesday, 7/30
Slow Cooker Beef Stew and Vegetables

Thursday, 7/31
Vegetable and Cheese Omelets

Friday, 8/1

Prepare potluck offering for tomorrow.

Saturday, 8/2
Bring a Three Sisters Medley side dish
(corn, beans, squash)

Sunday, 8/3
Chili & Toppings

Monday, 8/4
Chicken & Vegetable Casserole
(specifics to be determined)

Tuesday, 8/5
(eating out)

Come the 6th of August, I'll be able to get in a large grocery delivery and replenish the larder, and I'll do so with an eye toward following  the plan I've established - so things should be a lot more 'routine' for the rest of the summer.

One dish from last week that we enjoyed was this Kielbasa skillet meal. While Kielbasa and Cabbage is nothing exotic, there were a couple things here that really made it stand out - first, this Kielbasa is from a local area farm, and was so ridiculously flavorful that every bite made my eyes roll back in my head.  I love kielbasa - but often the overriding flavor note is salt.  We will be keeping this on hand regularly!

The second  thing is  that the beer we used to braise it in was my husband Michael's second try at his own homebrewed beer recipe - a Juniper Ale that is lower on the hoppy side, higher with the malt notes, and a good hit of juniper, which played very well with the cabbage.  Obviously, you won't be able to recreate that exactly - but try a malty amber ale, and toss in a few juniper berries, and you should get close enough.

Juniper Ale Kielbasa, Cabbage and Potatoes

1 pkg. kielbasa, cut into 1" sections
2 Tblsp. butter
1 bottle malty amber ale
1/2 tsp. juniper berries
1 head cabbage, chopped
4 Yukon Gold or red skinned potatoes, scrubbed and sliced
1 tsp. caraway seeds

Melt butter in a skillet and brown kielbasa.  When browned, add beer and juniper berries to pan, cover and simmer about 20 minutes, or until cooked through.

Add the chopped cabbage and potato slices, mixing gently to combine, and cover, simmering until cabbage and potatoes are tender.

Serve in a bowl with a bit of the resulting broth (the alcohol will have cooked off, leaving a good rich broth).

We ate all but one of the kielbasa sections on the first night, but still had a good bit of veggies left - so on day two, we browned some Italian sausage and added it to the veggies, along with a few cut carrots, and that gave us enough for a second night's meal, with just enough for a couple of lunch portions on the third day.

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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Review: Cooper and Kid Subscription Box (Part 1)

Cooper and Kid is a company that offers subscription boxes tailored for Daddy-time with the kids. It encourages dads to spend more time with the kids in ways that benefit both the children and dad. It’s coined as the instant “Dad is awesome box.”   You may remember that we were able to offer their Father's Day "Good, Bad & Ugly" Kit as a Giveaway back in May.  At the same time, I was given the opportunity to review their Flight Kit.

Being in the military, it can be difficult at times for me to get real quality time with my daughter. This box was an awesome way for her and I to bond and for me to do some teaching at the same time. The box offers education through discovery using the hands on building activities to teach children how and why something works the way it does. It is themed for dads and kids alike and is both gender and geographically neutral. 

As their website notes, each box“features an activity book that guides you through the theme and the contents of the box, a bedtime story, a website with related digital content, parenting and topical links to resources that are just for dad, a themed dinner menu with recipes to prepare with your children, and a shipping box that turns into a toy.” 

They really put a lot of thought into the entire experience from beginning to end.

I was super excited to get my hands and the box. Almost as excited as my 4-year-old daughter, Hailey. She couldn’t contain herself when I told her what the box was and that it was just for me and her. No mommies allowed! She was so excited that we had to open the box and look through it, even knowing that I wouldn’t have time for a few days to really get started.

Now, for a little background. Some people may call me crazy, but I let my daughter get into whatever she wants to (minus the cookie jar and the snack drawer). What I mean is that I refuse to tell my daughter that she is not allowed to help me work on our car or my motorcycle because she is a girl. If she wants to help me fix the kitchen sink she is more than welcome to. In fact, my daughter knows the name of more hand and power tools than my wife does. She is always excited when I ask for a certain tool and she gets to go find it. She will take off skipping in her sparkly pink tutu to dig through my tool box and bring me the flat head screwdriver and a socket wrench. Then she will lay with me under the car and watch while I change the oil and bleed the brakes. 

My wife and I chose to foster whatever interests she has. If she wants to do ballet and crafts that’s her choice. If she would rather sit under the car with me that’s fine as well. So far, she's choosing both. She loves building things with me just much as she does playing dress-up with her dolls.

I had recently been teaching her about flight as she had taken an interest in making paper airplanes. When I found out that the kit I would receive was their flight kit I was super excited to be able to teach even more about flight and have some really cool activities to back it up. Yes, flight is a fairly advanced topic even for most adults, but if she was willing to learn…

So far we have only done a few of the activities in the box. There is so much included in there that we are breaking this up into a two part review. In this post, I am only going to cover the stuff that we have done so far. Then the second part of the review will be the remainder of the contents of the box. So let’s get down to the good stuff.

First thing I have to say is this box is HUGE! We knew it was going to be jam-packed with all kinds of fun stuff just by the sheer size of this thing. Plus, the box has a cut-out toy on it. They make great use of all the materials. You’ve got to admit, there aren’t many companies out there that even use the packaging for their product as another part of the product!

Cooper and Kid walks you through the box every step of the way. They give you teaching points about every project that comes in the box as well as some cool content “just for dad.”

The box is packed to the gills with all kinds of fun activities. These are just a few of the ones we had done when I wrote this review.

1. Air Hawk Missile Launcher, 2. Parachute Man, 3. "Fly High, Fly Guy", 4. Flying Insect, 5. Catapult Kit

Air Hawk Missile Launcher

The Air Hawk Missile Launcher was definitely fun for both of us. 

We had a great time trying to see just how high it would go until a nice gust of wind came along and blew one rocket on top of the roof and the other into a nearby tree. 

We were able to recover both of them and she still plays with them all the time. Her friends love them as well. 

They are soft so there’s no real worry about it scratching the neighbors’ cars. I still wouldn’t want to aim it directly at their car. 

I mean honestly, who wants to look out the window and a see a kid shooting toy rockets at their car. Soft or not.

I was not at all kidding when I said she was running around in her sparkly pink tutu to look through my toolbox. 

The spring was actually strong enough to have a little bit of recoil in her hands.

Parachute Man

The parachute man. Ah, the parachute man. This brought back so many memories from when I was a child. 

My friends and I used to make parachutes for our Ninja Turtles and then throw them off the balcony on the second floor of my parents’ house. It was such a fun time. 

They even sold these little guys at the store that was within walking distance of my house.

Unfortunately the house we currently live in does not have a second floor balcony so we had to settle for standing on the back of the couch and dropping the parachute man. 

Hailey had a lot of fun with it even given the poor circumstances.  

With this, as well as the other items in the box, Cooper & Kit includes a good explanation of the scientific principles that go into making a parachute work.  I am sure that Hailey, like I did as a kid, will remember what she learns while she's having fun.

Flying Insect

She had a blast with the flying insect as well. She kept asking me why it flew so crazy, which actually turns out to be one of the teaching points of the kit. Without a tail the flight is much less controllable. This thing pretty much does whatever it wants.

The only thing we found wrong with the Flying Insect was that it's made of some pretty thin, flimsy foam. She accidentally snapped the wing. We just added a little electrical tape to it to help hold it together. It flew just as wildly as it had before.

I had some trouble getting an action shot since its flight was so unpredictable but I did manage to get a few. She had a lot of fun with this one because you could never tell what it would do or where it would land.

Fly High, Fly Guy, by Tedd Arnold

The book that was included is "Fly High, Fly Guy, by Tedd Arnold.  It's is about a boy and his pet fly. 

“Mom and Dad won't let Fly Guy go along on the family road trip. They're afraid he'll get lost. But when Dad accidentally shuts him in the trunk, Fly Guy goes along for the ride!”

The story was very cute and my daughter loved it. She was very excited to find that our local library actually a few of the other books in the series so we could read them as well.

Catapult Kit

The next thing we did was the catapult. This one was by far my favorite. I think it was hers as well. She had so much fun watching the toy come together and getting to build it herself with the help of her daddy. 

She also thoroughly enjoyed launching the beanbags at everything we would let her throughout the house.

The instructions were very clear and it was easy to put together. 

We did end up breaking the project up into 2 evenings though as she had started to get tired and lost interest after about an hour and half.

After all that waiting for glue to dry it came together exactly as was pictured in the box. She had a great time learning how to measure with the ruler that was included on the instructions as well as learning a few tricks to make measuring easier such as finding the center of the blocks quickly using other blocks that had already been measured. 

It quickly became one of her favorite toys and was much more rewarding to her than flat out buying one as she not only got to make it herself but got to spend the time with me as well learning some basic mechanics and physics.

So far I have been incredibly pleased with the contents of this box and so has my daughter. Every day when I come home she asks if we can do something out of the Cooper and Kid box. I think this company has a genius idea here, and it's so well put together. I can say with certainty that if we can find a way to fit this into our budget it will be a regular purchase for us. 

Cooper & Kid Cooper Kit Boxes come out quarterly, and cost $65 each, plus shipping.  With well over $100 worth of items in each box, and easily enough memory making activities to keep you and your children busy for three months, it is a great value.

I hope you and your kids enjoy it as much as mine have. And this isn't all! Please check back in a few days as I will be making the second entry highlighting the rest of the contents.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Review & Giveaway: Udderly Naked Natural Goat Milk Soaps and Products

I have great skin.  I get compliments on it all the time.  I’m also a naturalist and prefer to use as many organic products as possible to ensure I’m getting the most raw and “down to earth” ingredients in and on my body as possible.  

That said, I do suffer from a mild form of psoriasis, I have since my pre-teen years.  I was able to get rid of the one patch I had by doing a diet change to the paleo diet, but then I contacted some poison ivy on my leg and there grew another patch of psoriasis.  So I have to keep an eye on the products used on my skin, so as to not irritate this psoriasis.

When given the opportunity to try out some of Udderly Naked’s soaps, I was very excited.  Not only to try out a new hand-made product, but one made from goats milk.

My package arrived in a plain brown box within 2 days of being shipped off. They are usually shipped within 24 hours of ordering, and Wendy even sent me a bonus gift to try out - her rash cream for my psoriasis.

Pay no attention to the curious dog

My package included:
- A brochure of Udderly Naked products
- A bar of the Cocoamint Soap
- A tub of Rash Away Cream
- A small container of Lavender Hard Lotion
- A small sampler of Passionate Pink Lip Tint

My favorite product by far was the Passionate Pink Lip Tint, a mixture of bergamot and vanilla scent infused in beeswax, shea & cocoa butters, coconut,  almond oil, argan oil, kaolin and vitamin E.

I wasn’t sure what gave it the subtle pink color, as the ingredient list doesn't indicate that, but the brochure provided gave me a more in-depth list of ingredients and it appears to be a pink clay for pigment.  

It is a great color to wear to work when you don’t want a loud bold lip tint, which is great for someone like me who has big lips.  The texture is very soft and creamy, doesn’t clump up or feel awkward on your lips.  The scent is gentle and pleasing and it conditions my lips to keep them soft throughout the day.

As for the Cocoamint Soap, this is a pretty stout bar.  It lathers well and smells just as advertised, like an Andes mint candy.  

The scent is not overbearing in the shower at all and it cleans very well.  The colors are a mixture of brown and green, almost camo looking.  This soap is a mix of cocoa butter, olive oil, coconut, palm, grapeseed and palm kernal oils, parsley, cocoa powder and peppermint essential oil.  Definitely a yummy scent that made me want to eat it.

I made the mistake of opening the Rash Away Cream sideways, thinking it was more of a solid cream, and instead it was very liquidy which meant a quarter of it spilled onto my deck.  But once I figured that out I was able to try it out.  

This mixture of coconut oil infused with calendula and chamomile, shea butter, cocoa butter, zing oxide, aloe, neem, hemp and jojoba oils is a blend of skin softening bliss.  The scent is strongly dominated by the shea butter, which is fine with me because I love the scent of shea butter.  

It’s very liquidy, but smooths on nicely.  I tend to use a lot of it directly on my psoriasis to help with itching and to put something on for the night before going to bed.

The last item on my list was the Lavender Hard Lotion, which came in a nice tin with a cute little star shape.  I love the scent of lavender, especially for cleaning or before bed to help me rest. 

Made from beeswax, cocoa & shea butters, argan, almond, avocado, coconut, sunflower, palm kernal oil, lanolin, vitamin E, and aloe, this is a sure-fire punch for skin health and moisture.  

I prefer using this before bed for the calming affect of lavender scent, though you can catch notes of the shea butter scent as well.

The prices range from $10 for the rash cream, $3, $5 or $10 per hard lotion bar depending on size, to $2.50 per lip balm.  For that, you are paying for all natural hand-made ingredients, and some of the ingredients used are rich compared to mass marketed substitutes.  The containers are also very nice reusable containers. These products are made by hand by an independent artisan, and the scents are great!

Some other scents that she sells that I would love to try are the Oatmeal & Honey soap, the Cocoamint lip balm, and the Chocolate Kiss lip tint.  

To share in this beauty glory, we are offering a give-away of some free beauty swag for any U.S. customers!

The winner will get: 

1 free soap/shampoo bar of choice ($5.00
1 free small hard lotion of choice ($3.00)
1 free lip balm/tint of choice ($2.50)

To enter the giveaway, leave a comment in this entry as instructed by the Rafflecopter, and then leave your Username and email in the Rafflecopter entry. This will open up additional option entries to increase your odds of winning.  Good luck, everyone!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Meanwhile, Udderly Naked is also offering a 20% coupon for anyone in the U.S. who orders from this review with coupon code: REVIEW, so order today!

Udderly Naked Website
Udderly Naked on Facebook

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Friday, July 18, 2014

Recipe: Summer Squash Pasta with Chicken

Just a fast entry here - we served this to our friends, Jackie and Daniel the other night. This is a very easy pasta dish that pleases the whole family!

Summer Squash and Chicken Pasta


about a pound of chicken
2 yellow summer squash
2 zucchini
half box of spaghetti
2-3 Tblsp olive oil
2-3 Tblsp garlic
2 Tblsp Italian seasoning blend
pinch salt
2  Roma tomatoes (I forgot to grab them at the store, so I subbed a can of diced tomatoes)
2 tsp. Balsalmic vinegar
Parmesan cheese (optional)


Season chicken with about half of the garlic and Italian seasoning and cook (you can use the oven, but I like to use the microwave and keep the kitchen a little cooler)

Make pasta according to box

Slice zucchini and squash into half inch coins, then halve the coins

Cube cooked chicken into bite sized pieces

Cube tomatoes (or drain can)

Toss everything together (I find it best to use tongs) with the rest of the seasonings and the olive oil and balsalmic vinegar, simmer for about 10 min, enough to get the zucchini and squash tender, but not mushy.

Serve with Parmesan cheese, if desired

This can easily become a vegetarian meal by just omitting the chicken!

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