Tuesday, September 30, 2014

What To Do With All Those Tomatoes


If you're like me and decided that it was an excellent idea to plant five tomato plants for two people, you're probably 

1) sick of eating tomatoes, and 
2) stuck with a bumper crop of 'Mortgage Lifters' that weigh around a pound a piece. 

Here's a great way to put those to good use and pack them away for the winter. 

We like to call this "Love Sauce" (a very simple and tasty marinara). 

I've always found that the simple stuff tastes a whole lot better than anything with a thousand fancy ingredients. Just take a few quality simple ingredients and let them shine. 

This recipe will make one pint (16 oz). Multiply at your discretion. 

Marinara "Love Sauce"

You Need

1/2 peck* Tomatoes
1 tbsp. Fresh Basil, chopped, to taste
1-2 Garlic cloves, minced or crushed, to taste
1 tsp. Salt, or more to taste

First you will need to peel, seed and juice the tomatoes. It's messy, but I assure you, this sounds like a bigger pain than it is:

Boil a pot of water. Plunge your tomatoes in, two at a time, for exactly 10 seconds. Take a paring knife and core the tomato. The skin should slip off easily. Slice the tomato in half cross-wise through the tomatoquator (not through the stem) and very gently squeeze out the seeds and juice. 

The Sauce

Roughly chop the tomato pulp and put it in a large pot. Cover and simmer on medium-low until the tomatoes begin to soften and render more juice. Uncover and mash with a potato masher to break up the pulp. Add about 1 tsp of salt. Simmer, uncovered, until the sauce reduces by about half or more, to your liking (this will take some time--go and watch Law & Order or something), mashing and stirring occasionally. 

I like chunky sauce, so I don't do this, but you can run it through a food mill at this point if you want smoother sauce. An immersion blender works well, too. 

This recipe requires a lot of tasting. Add more salt to taste. Add basil and garlic to taste. Slowly simmer about 5 minutes more.

Store by packing into hot jars and processing** in a boiling water canner*** for 35 minutes, freezing, or refrigerating. Done!

Tip: If you're interested in trying this out but lack the aforementioned "tomatolanche", I recommend purchasing the tomatoes at a farmer's market or even a roadside fruit stand. You can buy "seconds" (fruits that are blemished, bruised, cracked, or otherwise imperfect) that are not only just as delicious in sauce form as their more aesthetically-gifted counterparts, but have the added bonus of being significantly cheaper as well. 

 *What the heck is a peck? A peck is an outdated unit of dry volume used by the old-schoolers to annoy "kids these days". If you haven't bought them in peck form, then 1/2 peck is basically a 1 gallon bucket full, or about 6 pounds. 

**What is this "processing" you speak of? Ok, so this means "canning your stuff". If you're interested in home canning, go to Ball's Fresh Preserving to learn more. This is the online-version of the ubiquitous holy text known as the Ball Blue Book, with all the modern conveniences of things such as a pectin calculator and links to buy supplies. 

***Canning tomato products using the boiling water method requires a bit of added acid. Add 1/4 tsp of citric acid (look for it in the "canning supplies" section) or 1 tsp bottled lemon juice to each 16 oz jar before pouring in your sauce. I think this might be a new thing because I hadn't heard of it until recently, but it's possible I haven't been doing it because I was absent that day in pioneering class. 

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Monday, September 29, 2014

Review/Giveaway: PetBox (for Dogs)


A couple months ago, Jessica reviewed PetBox, a subscription box service that provides a variety of healthy treats, toys and other goodies for cats or dogs - her cat loved the box, and I was delighted to be able to review the dog version for our elderly beagle mix, Sadie.

Because of her stage of life, Sadie isn't so much a fan of toys anymore, and not all treats are particularly good for her.  So it made me really happy that PetBox allows a choice between receiving a surprise box or customizing your box so you can select exactly what's best for your pet.  There are a variety of boxes to choose from - a Snack Box containng one treat for $9.95 a month, a Deluxe box containing 2-3 items for $19.95 a month, a Premium box containing 4-6 items for $39.95 a month, or a Multiple Pet box, containing 7-12 items for dogs and/or cats for $59.95 a month.  All of these include FREE shipping & handling.

Even if you select the Surprise option, there is enough customization to feel confident that what you'll receive will be welcome and approrpriate for your pet - you'll fill out a profile letting PetBox know what sort of pet you have, age, gender and size.

Sadie received the Premium dog box, and we were able to select what came in it.  The process was simple - once we'd set up our account and filled out her profile, we were given points to work with - each item available for inclusion in the box had a point value, so we just selected what we wanted to add in until we ran out of points.

We were able to include five items, and I have found every one of them to be useful and welcome, and in the case of the treats, we'll be seeking them out to continue buying them for her.

We chose:

Doggie Beer Bones

I chose these out of blatant curiousity about how they're made.  They're made in small batches, using spent grains from craft breweries.  Since Michael brews beer, I was just intrigued that such a thing was possible, and whether or not she'd like them.

These crunchy dog bone shaped treats are a huge win with Sadie.  They're just the right size for her to have to spend a few seconds grinding up to eat and her face really lights up whenever I pull out the bag.

In addition to the spent brewing grains, they are made of barley flour, peanut butter, eggs, and water.  The scent is mild, vaguely like a peanut butter sandwich and according to the manufacturer, the color may vary depending on the type of beer being brewed.

There is no beer in these, nor hops (which are bad for dogs) - the grains are strained off before that stage of the brewing process begins.

Jump Joint Health Chews

As an aging, overweight dog, Sadie didn't need to have a box loaded up with snacks, but these are supplements that masquerade as a treat.

Each clover-shaped chew is slightly less than an 1" square, dense and chewy, and has a rather pronounced herbal and fishy odor.  The ingredients include:

Glucosamine HCL and MSM, which help with osteoarthritis
Fish Oil
Ginger Powder, which aids in joint mobility
Yucca and Alfalfa Extracts
Cayenne Pepper - good for pain relief due to arthritis

The inactive ingredients are brewer's yeast, citric acid, coconut oil, glycerin, mixed tocopherols, molasses, rosemary extract, tapioca starch and tapioca syrup.

The dosage is only one treat daily per 40lbs of dog, and Sadie gets hers around lunch time.  It's always hard to tell for sure how a dog is feeling, but she has enjoyed spending time outdoors over the last few weeks, We'll really be able to tell how she's doing with these as the weather turns cold.

Meanwhile, the most important question is... does she like them?

She likes them! She really likes them!


This is a simple little idea that works out well for cleaning dogs' teeth (especially when their breath sort of smells of fish oil!)

This little packet is about the size of a pack of baby wipes, and opens the same way - lift up the black flap and pull one moistened finger sleeve out. The flap reseals so the rest remain ready to use.

The package says these are 'vanilla scented that dogs love.'  Honestly, I've never known a dog to be particularly in love with vanilla - beef scented maybe, but vanilla?  But that's ok, because they weren't particularly vanilla scented either.  I had no idea if she was going to tolerate these at all.

I'm not going to lie - I chose this because Sadie needs some toothcleaning, but I was a bit too intimidating to try to force my own finger into her mouth and trust I wasn't going to come back one finger short if she decided she was insulted about the whole thing.

So, I made Michael do it.  Sadie likes him best anyway. hah!

She was wary, as any reasonable dog might be when her favorite guy starts coming at her with a strangely gloved finger, but after a couple mild protests, she put up with his giving her teeth a good rub down with the glove - no biting or snarling, just a little bit of acting put out (as she usually is when it comes to any grooming).

I'm not sure how well he got the inside of her teeth on that first introduction, but I expect that will come as the experience becomes familiar to her.

The finger gloves provide for a lot more control than a brush would, without risk of a fast movement injuring  the dog.  You have to use your own judgement about how well your dog can handle your finger in their mouth, of course.

Tick Twister

I am delighted to say that we haven't had to actually try out this next item!

Ticks are my nemesis - I can take almost any living creature in stride, but even thinking about ticks makes me shudder, gets my heart rate going fast, and slides me straight into an enraged panic attack.

I have friends dealing with Lyme Disease here in this area, so Sadie going outside means there will be tick checks immediately!

We do find 3-4 of them a year (and that's 5 too many for me!), and Michael gets rid of them, but this little device takes a lot of the risk out of it - instead of squeezing the abdomen and risking breaking off the head while it is still attached, the tiny forklike tool draws the tick out whole.

It is reusable and can be used on pets or humans, and will stay handy for the inevitable day one shows up. *shudder*

Water Rover

More than once, we've had to cut a walk short because Sadie needed water and there was no water source near enough to fill her travel bowl.  The Water Rover looked like an interesting solution to that problem!

These come in multiple sizes - a 3" bowl attached to an 8oz. bottle, or a 4" bowl attached to either a 15oz. or 26oz. bottle.

The design is really unique - the bowl section as also the lid of the bottle - there is a stopper that seals it, and a hook that allows it to be attached to the human's belt buckle (or the dog's harness), until it is needed.

When in use, the belt hook serves to hold back the stopper to keep it out of the way while the dog is drinking.  We both had a pretty hard time figuring that out - there is a picture on the bottle that explains it, but the various parts aren't sized to easily allow it to happen.  We didn't do it the way it showed (which was to completely loop the stopper around and slide it up the forked hook), but we managed to find a way to keep it out of the way.

Once you have the stopper off, tilting the bottle so the bowl is flat allows the water to flow into the bowl - and the shape means it will level out before the water overflows.

I found that the bottle didn't let the bowl sit entirely flat, but Sadie's drinking didn't seem to tip it, so it's not a practical problem - just an aesthetic one.

When the dog has had enough, you simply tilt the bottle back upright and the bowl drains back into the bottle, available for the next time your dog needs a drink.

That is my favorite part of this - no waste, which means you're more likely to be able to finish your walk without having to hunt for a faucet to use.

All together, I found these items to be great value for the cost of the box - everything is either a full-sized item with generous portions, or sturdy and reusable.  I would heartily recommend PetBox to any dog or cat owner, and a one month box would make a wonderful gift for a pet lover (or their pet).

Between the quality of their items, their customization capabilities and some really outstanding and responsive customer service, PetBox gets an A++++ from me, and if you give them a try, I think you'll agree.

To help you try them out, PetBox is offering 10% off your purchase with the code "RCHREVIEWS".  I promise, you will not be sorry!

Additionally, PetBox is once again generously offering one winner a 1 month Premium Box, valued at $39.95.  These will be a Surprise Box, but you can choose from a Cat or Dog box.  The giveaway is open to US residents only and will end just before midnight ET on Monday, October 13.

To enter the giveaway, leave a comment in this entry as instructed by the Rafflecopter, then leave the name you commented under and your email in the box in the Rafflecopter entry. (This lets us contact you if you win!)  This will open up additional optional entries to increase your odds of winning.

Good luck, everyone!

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PetBox Website
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Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Octopus Hotdogs

When I came across these adorable creatures, assumably on Pinterest, my daughter was about 3 years old. She was super picky and never ate more than a few bites of anything. Worth a try, I thought!

The first time we made them, she devoured four whole hot dogs. SCORE! 

Now these are my go to for any kid oriented get together. Every now and then we will make for dinner, but I usually save it for parties.

Most recently, while prepping my daughter’s 5th birthday party, an attendance of nearly 40 people, I spent about an hour making my biggest batch yet (32 dogs.)

They were a big hit, and easy to do on an otherwise very busy day.

The instructions are simple if you'd like to make your own:

Octopus Hot Dogs

You will need:

Hot dogs
Butter Knife
Toothpick or chopstick

First make sure the hot dogs are thawed!

I always try my best to give it 8 legs, but kids aren’t counting so just do what you can.

I like to quarter the bottom half of the dog using the butter knife, then turn and cut each of those quarters in half, but it can get tricky!

Using the toothpick or chopstick, make a slit for the mouth.

Stab two holes above the mouth for eyes.

(It will look silly now, but will open up once boiled—where it will still look silly, I guess!)

Place a few at a time in a pot with water, and let it come to a boil. The legs will curl up like tentacles, and the facial features will spread open.

(Don’t make my mistake. I added way too many to the water at once, and they didn't have room to curl up.)

Be prepared to be slightly disturbed by the amusement your children find in yanking the legs off one by one and eating off their faces.

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Monday, September 22, 2014

Review & Giveaway: Yoyen Designs


YoyenDesigns, a small family owned business based out of San Diego, CA, has some of the most unique artisan goods all in one shop!

I spent a little over a week speaking to owner, Lorena, via email. When I couldn't decide between a blue MiniBook or a pink one, she asked to send me both- one for me, and one for my soon-to-be-born daughter! 

Lorena, whose nickname is Yoyen (her own misspeaking from childhood trying to say 'Loren') has an amazing personality. She truly was so sweet to work with and very responsive to my questions!

I discussed with her my light metal allergies. I never quite know when jewelry is going to bother me, but when it does, it causes a rash so severe that I that I can't wear it at all.  

Loren offered to make the pink one with a pretty cord instead of their usual chain. I though that was very accommodating! I loved that we were only altering one, as it let me see the variety of what they offer.

When the book necklaces arrived, I was so thrilled! Even the packaging was impressive. They came in sturdy small boxes filled with shredded paper cushioning.

Each MiniBook necklace was also packed inside a canvas pouch "MiniBag".

The necklaces were beyond adorable! The two I received had a Sensuede cover (an ecofriendly animal-free alternative to suede, that looks and feels just the same). 

They were both approximately 1 ¼” wide and 1 3/8” high, with roughly 36 100% cotton fiber pages inside.

The blue one has a small antique yellow jump ring and 32” chain.  I really love that it hangs low enough to use the book!  The book is tied closed with a thin strip of blue Sensuede that is attached to one side of the cover, and wrapped around. The jump ring holds an antique yellow key charm as well as a blue lapis bead.

The pink MiniBook has a silver plated jump ring connecting to a pink lacing cord. A cute nautical pewter charm hangs off the jump ring. 

One thing I didn’t like as much in this one, was that the pink cord tying the book closed, comes all the way off rather than being attached by one side to the book. I imagine it's only going to be a matter of time until that piece is lost.  That aside, it is really adorable!

While my original intent was to save this one for baby, or use in her honor somehow, my five year old fell in love with this one before it was completely out of the package.   I should have remembered - anything pink belongs to Hailey!

The quality of each of the books is quite high.  Lorena studied ‘Book Arts’ in college and fell in love with the process! Each book is made with fine arts paper and is hand torn to give it rough edges.  The pages can be used for ink drawing, calligraphy, or 'wet media' such as watercolor or pastels. These pieces really are one of a kind ‘wearable art.’

There is a good variety of styles - some MiniBooks are available with regular bound pages and some with accordian pages that have tiny pockets. They might be affixed with various beads, charms or even feather. The mini books range from about $25-$30. That's a very affordable piece of jewelry in my opinion!  If you have something special in mind, Loren will work with you to customize one for you.

I haven’t yet decided what I am going to write in it. I have this problem with all pretty journals; I always buy them, but them deem them too pretty to actually use. I have yet to find the perfect use of it, so for now, I’ll just keep wearing it!

Yoyen Designs carries a variety of other treasures as well! 

Also you can find ‘Handmade Imports’ that consist of necklaces, bracelets, and anklets. Aside from a gorgeous $12 dreamcatcher necklace, nothing in that category appears over $10! I can’t wait to stock up on these, as many of them seem to be metal-free.  She also carries a line of embroidery kits and framed wall art.

Aside from all the pretties previously mentioned, Yoyen Designs carries a few fun printed items. I was sent 2 Signature Prints, a greeting card, and a bookmark. 

The prints are 8x10, printed on sturdy premium paper and display bright, vibrant colors! One of the prints has an adorable bicycle with tulips nearby and says ‘Enjoy the Ride’, a reminder we all need every now and then. 

The second print has a pair of orange retro quad roller skates and says “Life is fun on roller skates.” I smiled at this one as coincidentally, before getting pregnant with my newborn, I was actually a part of a local roller derby team. I can’t wait to hang these up! These retail for $12.99 each.

The greeting card and bookmark both display the same bicycle and ‘Enjoy the Ride’ theme. They are also of the same paper and quality. The greeting cards cost just $3.95 each and would be great to keep on hand as all-purpose note cards.

Yoyen Designs is giving away one Cadet Blue MiniBook Necklace (like I received) to one of our readers!  This necklace is valued at $29.99 and this giveaway is open to US residents only.

To enter the giveaway, leave a comment in this entry as instructed by the Rafflecopter, then leave the name you commented under and your email in the box in the Rafflecopter entry. (This lets us contact you if you win!)  This will open up additional optional entries to increase your odds of winning.

Good luck, everyone!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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