Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Revisiting the Perfect Backyard Garden

Created by seasoned set decorator Beth Rubino, an accomplished gardener herself (she has a 52-acre farm in Connecticut), who worked with Andrea Fenton and Nancy Haigh on the project.

Some movies are worth watching if only for their sets and scenery (think: Something's Gotta Give, the Holiday). It's Complicated is one of those movies. I know it's an old one but I can't stop dreaming about it! The rational side of me knows that this garden was planted yesterday but the gardener in me wishes I could have this year-round in my back yard.  A girl can dream, right?
Photo courtesy of Universal Studios

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Garden Inspiration

This Memorial Day weekend I plan to get out into the garden to continue with some much needed spring clean up.  No gardening weekend is complete without a trip to Flora Grubb.  This picture from their newsletter is all the motivation I need.  I would love to have beautiful dahlias like this one growing in my  yard.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Eating the French Skinny Way, in a Nutshell

I've mentioned before that I am now looking at food in a totally different way and have been losing weight in a steady manner and enjoying every minute of it. I have been a healthy eater for years, organic, whole foods, home cooking, and all that but it wasn't helping me to lose any weight! In fact, I have been holding on to an extra 12 pounds since my daughter was born 4+ years ago, but I have now lost 13 ( and 1-2 sizes) in 2 months. Some of you wanted more detail on how I suddenly turned this all around, so I will attempt to be more specific in this post.

It probably helps that I have been obsessed with all things French for the last year and I love a lot of their lifestyle (you know, facials, lingerie, great fashion, great food, the architecture...mmmm.....oh,are you still with me?)  except they are a bit too stand-offish for me, I am definitely a friendly California girl! So, when I saw the blog entitled " The French Skinny Experience," I was obviously drawn to it. The blog has since changed focus a bit since the blogger whose experiment it was, has lost her desired 35 pounds and is now living the good life and looking gorgeous too! I read through and gleaned as much as I could from the pictures, the wisdom and the suggestions. In the beginning, I had to read it daily to remind myself how it was done, even though it seems easy. Definitely look at the blog for yourself for great inspiration (check out day 120, November 30, 2010 especially and her epiphany )  but I'll summarize here what I took from it and what has worked for me.

Words of wisdom:
1. Only eat when you are truly hungry (I mean, pay attention, does your stomach feel empty or do you just have to burp, are you thirsty or is it just meal time?). You may think you are always hungry like I used to but when you actually start eating the right amount you will know what I'm talking about.

2. Only eat until you are satisfied. You should NEVER feel like lying down on the floor when you are done eating. You should still feel like you can go for a jog. And no, you will NOT be hungry, you will be comfortable. But you MAY have to get over the psychological feeling that you should be stuffed when you are done eating, it took me a day and a half.

3. Never eat processed foods. Only REAL foods. No bars, no protein powder, no fruit roll-ups. Eat fruits, veggies, meat, cheese, bread, home-made pastries (not sold in a plastic bag!!), nuts, seeds, anything dairy, pasta, rice, cornmeal/polenta, chocolate, wine, etc. There are many things to eat and you can eat them all, whatever you want, when you are truly hungry and if you stop when you are satisfied.

4. You only taste the first 3-4 bites, after that why are you eating? However, you must sit down with a plate ready in front of you and concentrate on how good those bites are. No mindless snacking, or munching while you are cooking, etc. We have busy lives but it doesn't take long to focus on 4 unbelievebly good bites!

5. Have a few different things to eat so your mind and palate feel satisfied that you've had enough to eat and eat them on a small plate. Your portions will be much smaller than you are used to in America where we eat like Sumo Wrestlers, I have come to realize.
Karen at French Skinny ate a small ramikin full of her main dish and I did/do also as a guide. Also, a serving of meat is the size of a deck of cards so that's what I try to have. I serve myself those portions on a small plate and leave the rest on the stove for tomorrow's lunch. Sometimes, now, I even leave some on my plate because my stomach says it's full. It's pretty amazing what it tells you when you listen!

6. Have dessert if you are still hungry (yes, whatever you want in a SMALL portion) or a piece of cheese or fruit work well too as a finisher.

How I started:
I started by cutting my portions in half at every meal. I allowed myself a small snack (an apple, whole or sliced with cinnamon or a few nuts-maybe 8) mid-morning and mid-afternoon...IF I needed it, which I did for the first few days. Then I weaned myself to having a cup of tea in the afternoon when I wanted something but wasn't hungry. After a week, I wasn't hungry most of the time, unless it was meal time, and now, I might even skip a meal because I truly am not hungry.

I've noticed I feel awful if I overeat and I am hungry at all 3 regular meal times unless I overeat at another meal that day. Then, I don't eat that meal, or I have a small snack if I do get hungry later. But most of the time, I like to eat 3 meals so I don't eat too much at one time because I am looking forward to the next delicious meal I am going to have (see, you NEVER feel deprived, that's the key!)

I truly eat whatever I want, including full-fat foods, butter, fattening cheeses, pastries, steak, etc. However, because I am so health conscious, I also eat lots of vegetables and fruits, whole grains and nothing artificial which I think is the real killer, hidden things like corn syrup and MSG. I think the additives trick you into eating more somehow, really!

This is a typical breakfast for me with some variations:
That is decaf coffee with 2 small spoons of sugar and frothed non-fat milk and one heaping soup spoon full of Greek yogurt drizzled with honey and strawberries. This holds me until lunch time.

Othertimes, I have homemade crepes. I used to eat 2 at first, now I only need 1. Crepes are easy to make and very thin and delicious. The batter will save for a few days. My favorite is with butter, powdered sugar and lemon juice, just like I had them in France.
And yesterday, I had one fried egg and a piece of buttered toast for breakfast with a few (5 large) blueberries. Totally full. Yum!

Once or twice a week, I eat breakfast out, like while Bella's in ballet and I have a half a chocolate or ham and cheese croissant and a regular (whole milk) cappuccino with 2 sugars from the bakery. I give the other half to Bella of course or share with a friend (in the first few weeks I had half of each and she had half of each and I lost lots of weight).

So this is how I eat now and forever and it's great. I'll go more into lunch and dinner in another post, but hopefully this will get you going! I'm another pound down today, you can do it too!

Our Nation's Capital

There are so many things I love about Washington DC, but one of my new favorites is the National Portrait Gallery.  The museum was undergoing a six-year renovation during the time I lived in DC so it wasn't until a couple years ago when I was visiting friends that I first discovered this great place.  It's located in the Patent Office Building, one of the oldest federal buildings in Washington, DC.  The building renovations highlight beautiful porticoes, colonnades, vaulted galleries, and a curving double staircase.  There have been some really fun exhibitions over the past couple of years.  I really enjoyed Elvis at 21: Photographs by Alfred Wertheimer (I pretty much love everything Elvis), One Life: KATE, A Centennial Celebration (who isn't taken with the lovely Katharine Hepburn), and Telling Stories, an exhibition that explored the connections between Norman Rockwell’s iconic images of American life and the movies (George Lucas and Steven Spielberg to be specific).  The permanent exhibit, America's Presidents, is at the top of my list.  This exhibition was my first stop this trip back to DC.  I prefer the more formal presidential portraits such as these: 

However, there is something for everyone.  Maybe a more modern approach is your style.  What do you think of this portrait?

Conveniently located right across the street from the National Portrait Gallery is my new favorite DC restaurant, Proof.  Dinner there started with a small plate of mixed olives with citrus and thyme.  We followed that up with a selection of cheeses:  Montgomery’s Cheddar (England, firm, sharp, nutty, fruity), Pecorino Foglie di Noce (Italy, semi-hard, salty, earthy, walnut), and Dante (Wisconsin, firm, rich, earthy, toasted almond), served with honey, toasted raisin bread, and dates.  We ended with a warm flatbread featuring creamy Vermont burrata, asparagus, and green beans.  Of course fantastic wine accompanied every course.  My favorite was a Italian white wine:  Tocai Friulano di Lenardo.

No trip to DC is complete without a visit to Iwo Jima.  How will you honor our fallen service members this Memorial Day?  

Monday, May 23, 2011

Bon Voyage, Hawaiian-Style or A Tutorial on Packing Well!

Little Sister and I are off to Kauai for a much needed sister trip! Our goals are relaxation, eating well, rejuvenating ourselves and oh, did I say relaxation? I have learned many helpful travelling tips from little sister who is a much more seasoned traveller than I.
1. First off, whenever possible, do not check a bag. It not only saves time but also money and avoids the possibility of the lost or delayed bag. To do this for a 7 day trip takes some skill!
2. Plan outfits carefully then fold and roll up your clothes. It really does help fit more into your bag and it keeps your clothes from getting wrinkly. I brought lots of sun dresses. I even squished a large floppy beach hat in, I tried it and it came out fine.
3. Bring only the bare-essential gels and liquids in travel sizes and put them on top in your bag in their little zipper-locked baggie.  If they ask for them at security, it's easier to find that way. You will use the shampoo, conditioner, soap and lotion at the hotel. Oh, and their toothpaste too. I need my own facial products and make up.

Us with everything we need for a week in Hawaii
4. Pack a large "purse," in which you will carry your books, your real purse, your cards for playing games, your earbuds for your IPhone/Pod or the on-flight movie, and anything else that doesn't fit in your suitcase on the way home. That dark brown bag above is my "purse." Don't forget to include your own healthy (and yummy) snacks since airplane food sucks and airport food will cost way more than it's worth. I packed nuts, an apple, a peanut butter sandwich and a brownie I baked at home.
5. Wear your biggest shoes, ones  that slip on (and off) for security, but bring a pair of fluffy socks or slippers to wear on the plane.

It's absolutely amazing to me how much I can smoosh into a carry-on!

Here we are, ready to go (I didn't get lei-d before we left, it's just that Bella thought I should wear her lei since I am gong to Hawaii and all.) She's thoughtful like that...

I'm gonna miss her and the hubster but, they're going to be fine!
The Big sister

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Saturday Night Date at the Monastery??

Finally, a date night!! This doesn't happen often for us so it's always a treat. This one was fairly impromptu but all the stars aligned to make it happen. Granted, we tried to include friends but, since it was such a late plan, of course none could make it. So hubs and I had a glorious  catching up, laughing, relaxing, debating serious issues, romantic time while Nana watched Bella for the evening.
First a quick drive out in the country in the Mini (Cooper, that is) to a little gem of a stop. A winery at a monastery!

Photo courtesy of the New Clairvaux Monks

Yes, true, the New Clairvaux Winery in Vina, Ca. Which might seem very intimidating or perhaps, even wrong, but is really pretty delightful. There is a beautiful brick, arched-ceiling tasting room and the Cistercian-Trappist monks who poured our wine were very approchable, talkative and interesting. They were releasing their 2010 St. James Syrah Rose', which will make a very nice sipping wine when the weather finally warms up a bit, and pouring a few other fine choices as well. My favorite was the 2008 Tempranillo.
Normal enough, right? But here's where the story gets interesting....

Photo courtesy of the New Clairvaux Monks

The history of the Monastery is quite interesting. In 1890, the land belonged to Leland Stanford (of Stanford University) and was the location of the world's largest vineyard, winery, and distellery. It didn't last long, however, since the temperance movement and Prohibition hit soon after. In 1955, it was purchased by the New Clairvaux monks and then in 2000, they opened up the winery again.

Leland Stanford

In 1994, the monks were given  stones purchased by William Randolph Hearst in 1931  from the 12th century Chapter House of the Santa Maria de Ovila Monastery in Spain and brought over by ship to San Francisco. When the Depression started, Hearst abandoned his plans to build it into a castle for himself and left the stones there. Now, the monks are rebuilding that structure in Vina. It is quite breathtaking and it should be done in one and a half years. I can't wait to see it then! Here's what they have done so far...

Photo courtesy of the New Clairvaux Monks

Interestingly enough, these monks are not afraid of alcohol one bit! They are raising money to fund this project by teaming up with my favorite brewery, Sierra Nevada, in Chico, to brew and sell Ovila Ale. Apparently it is quite delicious and is selling off the shelves. What a fun way to support a good cause! Even though I am more of a wine connoseur than a beer drinker, I have it on my to-do list for this month. What should I eat it with though? Hmmm...

When we had soaked in enough happiness at the winery, we headed off for a bite to eat at a Chico favorite, The Red Tavern. Granted I haven't eaten there in over 10 years because it's generally not the kind of food that floats Hubs boat, but tonight, I got lucky!!

It was an uncharacteristically cool night for mid-May in Chico but we ate outside anyway. They were nice enough to roll up our very own outdoor heater and we were very comfortable. The garden is very well manicured and the ornamental trees all appeared to be citrus. How clever!

The Bocce Ball court was occupied, apparently, practice for an upcoming tournament, but it was fun to watch and learn anyway. I want one of these in my backyard, don't you?

We started with baguette and butter, a glass of cab for me and a beer for hubs, then my main course came (actually an appetizer, French Skinny portions, you know) and it was to die for!

Hot-Smoked Oregon King Salmon
spring garlic blini, creme fraiche, lemon vinaigrette  9.5

Hubs had a pizza,

which he was very happy with, and then came coffee and dessert.

You're right, there's no picture of dessert but that's because I couldn't get one before we started in on it. Homemade ice cream sandwiches made with sugar cookies, vanilla ice cream and mangoes! Yummy!!!
And a good time was had by all. Now, do you think I can convince him to do it again?

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Friday Family Dinner: Leek and Potato Soup

Tonight's menu included a bowl of warm, rich, creamy leek potato soup and baguette with cambozola cheese with a crimson glass of Quilici Syrah. It's been cold and rainy here lately, which is so bizarre for May in Chico but I've taken advantage of the surprise weather to enjoy a bit more soup! Yippee! Besides that, my garden is taking off and my leeks are now ready. I'm just wondering what I was thinking when I planted so many???

Leeks in my herb garden (also more in my main garden!)
This is the third year of my garden and I think I'm finally getting the hang of this gardening thing. It's still pretty amazing when something actually grows though, it's like a miracle has happened every time I find a new baby vegetable on the bush! We have an organic garden and I love that Bella and I can go out and pop strawberries warm from the sun into our mouths straight from the bush (but this is becoming another post!)

The strawberries that actually made it to the house!

Next year, when you grow leeks (which I had never cooked with until last year when I planted them on accident thinking they were chives...go ahead, laugh!) you can go out to your
garden and dig up a few plump bulbs ( 1/2" or larger diameter). They're all over my farmer's market too...

Now you pull out Alton Brown's recipe and get started while you listen to Lady Gaga or Neil Diamond on Pandora Radio (depending on what kind of day you've had and how badly you need a dose of Sweet Caroline screamed out at the top of your lungs).

Alton Brown's


  • 1 pound leeks, cleaned and dark green sections removed, approximately 4 to 5 medium
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • Heavy pinch kosher salt, plus additional for seasoning
  • 14 ounces, approximately 3 small, Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and diced small
  • 1 quart vegetable broth
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1/2 teaspoon white pepper
  • 1 tablespoon snipped chives


Chop the leeks into small pieces.
(First, pull off the outer layer and wash them, then chop off the roots and the dark green portions which you will save to compost of course!)

In a 6-quart saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter.

My favorite pan: an heirloom cast-iron dutch oven from my great grandmother

Add the leeks and a heavy pinch of salt and sweat for 5 minutes.

Why Kosher you ask? It has larger crystals and less salty and iodine taste than table salt (more room for error!)

Decrease the heat to medium-low and cook until the leeks are tender, approximately 25 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add the potatoes

and the vegetable broth (little sister made some for me and it looked really easy and it made all the old wilty veggies I was hoarding in the fridge into something really yummy),

 increase the heat to medium-high, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and gently simmer until the potatoes are soft, approximately 45 minutes,

At this point, Bella took the scraps out to the compost pile (yes, Mom, I finally have one!)
I also could have made more vegetable broth but I didn't need any right now.

I added turkey kielbasa from Trader Joes at the end (probably should have waitied until after the puree).
Turn off the heat and puree the mixture with an immersion blender until smooth.

You must have an immersion blender, it has changed my life!
(um, not really, but I do love it!)
 Stir in the heavy cream, buttermilk, and white pepper (or black pepper if that's all you have).

I only use half of the cream and buttermilk.
Not because I'm afraid of the fat but because I think it tastes better.
Taste and adjust seasoning if desired. Sprinkle with chives and serve immediately, or chill and serve cold.

Delicious! And actually today was really nice so we sat outside.

I had one scoop of soup, 1 slice of bread and a generous wedge of cheese.

Then, because I wanted it.....

I lost another pound today. My new smaller size jeans are getting baggy!

Have a wonderful weekend!!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Little Green Bag

Little Girl Little Flower Purse in Meadow green with red flower detail

At Little Girls Boutique on Etsy

I think my little girl would love this bag; in fact, I wish they made it in my size! Wouldn't it look great with skinny jeans, flats and a white tee, perhaps a ponytail? I'd like to tote my room key, sunglasses and book in this when I head for the spa or lunch in Hawaii. But, ahem, back to my little girl...she would love this, what do you think?

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Before and After #2

My little jewel box of a bathroom before and after!  I wonder what the original 1978 owners thought of their version of our bathroom.  How would they have described it?  Groovy?  Modern?  Delightfully yellow?  Was a gold-flecked sink the height of sophistication back then?


Friday, May 6, 2011

Family Friday Dinner

Mario Batali came up with this recipe exclusively for GOOP.com, Gwenyth Paltrow's blog. I made it for dinner and it was fantastic! We had a baguette with butter and a nice Zin with it and homemade cheesecake for dessert. I have now lost a total of 11 pounds! I'm still in shock, really. It was so easy!!!

Soft Polenta with Asparagus, Prosciutto, Garlic and Spring Onions

Serves: 4

5 cups water
1 pound asparagus, jumbo
1 cup polenta, quick cooking
1 cup mascarpone cheese
4 tablespoons butter plus 2 tablespoons
3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
3 slices prosciutto, cut into julienne
12 spring onions, cleaned and root ends removed
juice and zest of 1 lemon
Set up an ice bath.

Place 5 cups water in a 4-quart saucepan and bring to a boil.  Trim asparagus, drop into water and cook until tender, about one and a half minutes.  Remove and refresh in ice bath.  Return the same water to boil and, whisking constantly, pour polenta in a thin stream until all is incorporated.  Remove whisk and stir with wooden spoon until as thick and dense as cream of wheat and remove from heat.  Fold in mascarpone and let stand covered in a warm spot.

In a 12- to 14-inch sauté pan, heat 4 tablespoons butter until foaming over medium heat.   Add garlic, prosciutto and spring onions and sauté until onions are wilted.  Add asparagus, lemon juice and zest  and let sizzle.   Add remaining butter, shake pan to emulsify and season with salt.  Divide polenta among 4 bowls, top each with asparagus-spring onion mixture and serve immediately.

Tonight we played "Would you rather." We've been sitting outside for dinner every night as the weather has been so perfect. Hubs asked if we'd rather be an avocado or an apple. We all chose avocado. Do you think our obsession is genetic? Speaking of avocados, I so hope our avocado tree is fruitful this year. The one avocado it yielded last year was delish but it's going to take a looong time to pay off the $25 tree at that rate!
Bella asked if we'd rather be a gate or a horse, I thought that was a creative one...what would you choose? To sit back and watch the action like a fly on the wall or run fast and free?
Sorry for the lack of pictures. I'll need to get in the habit of bringing my camera along with me everywhere.
Hope you have a wonderful weekend!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Learning a New Craft

Growing up with two expert seamstresses in the family, mom and grandma, one might have thought that I would have learned how to sew.  (I'm not counting that one 4-H class many many years ago that earned me an honorable mention at the county fair for my pedal pushers and matching top!)  If I did know how to sew, these are the types of things I'd be making:

Amy Butler has patterns here for these projects and more like them if you're interested.  And who knows, maybe one day I'll finally learn, but I wouldn't hold your breath.

Monday, May 2, 2011

What I'll be Bringing to Read at the Beach

Still dreaming and planning my fun, relaxing trip to Hawaii with Little Sister. It's such a delicious idea, I think I'll have some ice cream with chocolate fudge sauce on top to celebrate! Don't get me wrong, I will be a little sad to leave my hubster and sweet daughter, but a girl's-only vacation is just what this working Mama's body and soul need right now. I am planning on a little yoga, a few beach strolls (I might even be inspired to RUN!,) but mostly, lounging by the pool reading books. In case you were wondering, this is what I'm planning to read by said pool:

Little Bee: A Novel

1. Little Bee: a Novel by Chris Cleave. The lives of a British magazine editor and a Nigerian refugee girl collide in this novel that will make you smile, cry, think, and ultimately pray for the best in humanity to win .

The History of Love

2. The History of Love by Nicole Krauss. A hauntingly beautiful novel intertwining the lives of 80 year old Leo who immigrated to New York after escaping SS officers in his native Poland and Alma, a 14 year old trying to ease the lonliness of her widowed mother. Leo is mourning his lost wife and the lost novel he wrote "The History of Love," and just trying to be noticed.

Product Details

3. Moloka'i  by Alan Brennert. A touching story about a young woman who contracted leprosy in the 1890's in Honolulu and her trials and triumphs, including, finally, a cure! (A fitting story for a trip to Hawaii, no?)

Yes, I do plan on reading all of them on my trip, and no, I won't be gone that long! I'm just planning on relaxing a lot. I'll let you know what I think when I get back.

Bon Voyage!!!