Mustardy Maple Pecan Brussels Sprouts

Today’s blog is short and sweet. We have so much going on with the end of school next week, it’s kind of insane. I am planing the end of school party for my daughters class, making a movie (iMovie) from their awesome “Age of Sail” overnight historical field trip we went on earlier this year, and trying to prepare for summer break by planning activities, our first ever Mother-Daughter Road Trip, went out of town for 2 Dance Competitions in a month, and keeping up with housework, cooking, major cleaning projects and normal life. I am not sure how I would have done all this when I worked a full time (commuting) job. Perhaps I just missed out on all this stuff when I was stuck in traffic or at work late to close the month or meet a deadline.  Somedays I think I work harder now than when I was in the office 45-55 hours a week.

So with all of this hectic energy swirling about me like a mini tornado, I wanted to share something so easy, that is so simple, yet mind blowing amazing and all you have to do is throw all the ingredients into a slow cooker, give it a good stir, then and press “on” and spend the next three hours doing whatever it is you are behind schedule for. (Or take a break and watch that TV episode you have been wanting to catch up on, or give yourself a manicure, or take a relaxing bubble bath!)

These are such a nice change from the butter, bacon and deep fried brussles that have been all the rage over the last few years. Slightly sweet and savory, I guarantee that even non brussels sprout loving kids, will at least entertain the idea of eating one or two of these.


 

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::: Mustardy Maple Pecan Brussels Sprouts :::

Ingredients

  • 1 stalk fresh Brussels sprouts (about 2-3 cups) or one bag of pre-washed whole
  • 2 Tbls Dijon or yellow mustard
  • 2 Tbls butter (vegans can use olive oil)
  • 2 tsp brown sugar
  • 2 Tbls pure maple syrup
  • 2 Tbls lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup pecans, chopped
  • Salt & pepper to taste

Directions

  1. If you are using fresh brussels sprouts, trim from stalk and remove any outer layers that don’t look good.
  2. I prefer to cut my brussels sprouts in half or quarters depending on how large they are. If you have walnut sized ones, halved is perfect. If you have larger ones, then quarter them. This helps all that yummy sauce get deep into the leaves.
  3. Add all ingredients except the nutmeg to your crock.
  4. Stir well and make sure the sprouts are covered.
  5. Cook on high for 2 1/2 to 3 hours until al dente.
  6. Adjust salt and pepper and add nutmeg.

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The Truth about Media and Positive Role Models

Word of mouth is infectious. It can take over an entire city, state, and even a whole county. It gets into all those nooks and crannies and stays there lingering, just waiting to pounce at the right moment. One negative comment can spread like wildfire, while the positive ones seem to creep along at a snails pace. It’s all human nature. We are drawn to stare compulsively at a terrible car crash, we are compelled beyond our control to gossip about what other people wear, or eat. We just can’t help it; we all love a good train wreck, cake wreck, videos of pretty models falling down, right?

Part of my goal with my blog is to stay positive and spread  happiness and good energy back into the world.  Everyone can use a positive and kind word, not just sometimes, but all the time. Repclae that negative comment about that poor girl’s outfit, with something like, “You have a beautiful smile” or  “I love the color of you hair”. If you really look deep, you can find something wonderful about every person. It’s our own inner demons and lack of self confidence that make us get defensive and downright mean. How much better do you really feel when you make someone else feel awful?  I GUARANTEE that the more positive you are and the more you compliment people, you will start to change the way you see yourself and you will become happier and more self confident as well.

What’s happening to our younger generations is abominable. Girls as young as 8, 9 and 10 already have body image issues. They already see every flaw on their body.  “My thighs are jiggly”, “My stomach sticks out”, or “My face is too chubby” are things I have personally heard 4th and 5th graders say. Why are we obsessed with what the media tells us is perfect? No one is perfect. I repeat: NO ONE IS PERFECT. I have learned a lot over the years, especially doing live theatre. I have seen time after time, a thin, beautiful, talented woman get cast in the part I wanted, only to have them gripe about how imperfect they are. They have cellulite, their stomach isn’t flat, their chest is too small, etc. etc. Why are we so hard on ourselves?

We should be taught to appreciate things about out bodies and ourselves. We should be teaching our children that they are beautiful just the way they are. They are growing and changing, and they shouldn’t worry so much about it. Imagine a world where every child went to “Self Confidence Class” where the homework is too draw a self portrait and list their 3 favorite things about their face. Or the lesson in class would be to partner up and spend the next 15 minutes telling the other person everything that is awesome about them. I know I am living in a fantasy world, but that fantasy could become a reality if we all started banding together and started to change they way we see what “pretty” is.

So let’s start with the bad. Here are some great videos on what’s going on out there in the media. You may have already watched one or more of these, but I urge you to watch again, and if you have children, please talk to them and show them that ads, movies, videos, magazines are just as fake and unreal as cartoons, talking dinosaurs, and green grouchy monsters.

  1.  Killing Us Softly 3
  2.  Killing Us Softly 4
  3. The Photoshop Effect
  4. Standard of Beauty
  5. 5 Minute Retouch
  6. Dove Evolution
  7. Bad News


It is our job as parents to make sure they know what’s real and what’s not. So let us move on to positive things and media that we can show our children.  Certain celebrities and models are taking a stand against extreme photoshopping while many are rejecting any kind of photoshop. Let’s hope the trend keeps growing. One website that is making itself known is A Mighty Girl.

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Let me start by saying this website completely ROCKS. You can also find them on Facebook, click the “like” button, and you will be treated to many amazing, uplifting, and real honest to good role models and stories for you and your daughter.  They carry books, dress up, toys, games, movies, clothing, music and more.  They give a nice description and share many details about the items and the author, recommended ages, etc. There’s even a link to purchase items on Amazon, but still support them. They have easy filters to narrow down your search by ages, or topic.  Heck, there’s a ton of historical books that I would jut LOVE to sink my teeth into.

I feel that even though this is a girl power kind of website, I think it’s very important to also share aspects of these things with the boys. We need to teach them to respect women from an early age, or our girls will continue to battle throughout their lives and future generations. The key is equality for everyone; no matter who you are, where you come from, how much money you have, or what kind of clothes you wear, color of your hair, or if you wear glasses or freckles. Everyone should be treated with respect. Teach your kids to be whoever they want to be.


Here are some points of interest.

::: BOOKS :::

They have everything from independent-minded princesses, to historical figures, environmental, social issue, personal development, civil rights, heros, and so much more. There is really something for everyone. My list of favorites is in the hundreds, and hard to choose just a few, but once you start looking it will be hard to stop.


:: TOYS :::

Who says boys are the only ones who can build or get dirty or like bugs? And who says girls should always be a damsel in distress, a princess locked in a tower and play house. Here you will find a huge assortment of toys and game for all ages – babies to adults! It’s refreshing to see some of the toys are NOT pink and purple and just any color. Not all girls like pink, my daughter hated pink until she was older.


::: CLOTHING :::

So instead of your daughter wearing a shirt that says something like  “School is Boring” or “Math is too hard” why not try one of these refreshingly awesome t-shirts!

 

kind-shirt math-girls pi-shirt saves-self scientist1 strong

Oatmeal Chocolate Banana Bread Bars


So you are hungry. You have nothing yummy to eat and you don’t want to go to the store. Besides the last time you read the labels on those so called natural granola bars, it made you cry. Well, just whip up a batch of these super easy oatmeal bars and you have breakfast, lunch, or dessert!  I was really tempted to add some peanut butter, but I wanted to try them the way the recipe called at least the first time.  I did add pecans to half the pan which were not called for, and I actually like them better than the side without nuts.

These remind of something I have had before, but I can’t quite put my finger on it. My childhood? Food from an era before mass production of fake processed and chemically “enhanced” foods? Perhaps. It’s just simple homemade, chewy, moist and chocolatey with a hint of  banana. So what if you are one of the few people who do not like chocolate? I will allow you to omit the sinful dark confection for something else, but you will be missing out.

So if you are reading this and wondering what’s actually in that last store bought granola bar you ate, let me show you this. This is taken from what is advertised as “healthy” and “low fat”. All I see here is a long list of ingredients and many of them I have no idea what they are or how they are made or where they actually come from and we shouldn’t be eating them. In case you are not familiar with some of these items, I have provided links below to the definition and uses. Some were quite shocking to know that they are in these granola bars, but also can be used in jet fuel, cigarettes, or in cleaning products. Makes you think!

::: CHEWY CHOCOLATE CHIP BARS :::
Ingredients:

GRANOLA (WHOLE GRAIN ROLLED OATS, BROWN SUGAR, CRISP RICE [RICE FLOUR, SUGAR, SALT, MALTED BARLEY EXTRACT],WHOLE GRAIN ROLLED WHEAT, SOYBEAN OIL, DRIED COCONUT, WHOLE WHEATFLOUR, SODIUM BICARBONATE, SOY LECITHIN, CARAMEL COLOR, NONFAT DRYMILK), SEMISWEET CHOCOLATE CHIPS (SUGAR, CHOCOLATE LIQUOR, COCOABUTTER, SOY LECITHIN, VANILLA EXTRACT), CORN SYRUP, BROWN RICE CRISP (WHOLE GRAIN BROWN RICE, SUGAR, MALTED BARLEY FLOUR, SALT), INVERTSUGAR, SUGAR, CORN SYRUP SOLIDS, GLYCERIN, SOYBEAN OIL. CONTAINS 2% OR LESS OF SORBITOL, CALCIUM CARBONATE, SALT, WATER, SOY LECITHIN, MOLASSES, NATURAL AND ARTIFICIAL FLAVOR, BHT (preservative), CITRIC ACID.

I don’t know about you, but how about we make something with far less ingredients and chemicals in it. You know they say we should be eating how our great-grandparents or grand-parents ate. Very little processed foods, homemade, organic (that was norm), whole foods and fresh ingredients. It’s really not that difficult, and this treat whips up in about 10 minutes and cooks in only 25.  Be prepared for a taste sensation – and try NOT eat the whole pan in one day.


Oatmeal Bars


Yield about 20-32 servings

Ingredients:

  • 2 very ripe bananas
  • 2/3 cup vegetable oil or softened butter
  • 1 cup light brown sugar, packed
  • 1 1/4 cup all purpose flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 3 cups rolled oats
  • 1 cup bittersweet chocolate chips
  • 1/2 – 1 cup pecan halves (optional)

Directions:

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  • Lightly grease an 8×12″ stone baking dish and set aside.
  • In a large bowl or mixer, mash the banana.
  • Add the oil and brown sugar. Beat on medium until smooth.
  • In a separate bowl, mix dry ingredients together.
  • Fold dry ingredients into wet ingredients mixing slowly until combined.
  • Fold in chocolate chips until evenly distributed.
  • Spread mixture evenly into pan.
  • In a pattern, carefully place pecan halves in a row on top of the mixture.
  • Bake for 25 minutes, or until edges are golden.
  • Let cool before cutting into squares.

1 Month Green Smoothie Challenge

My goal in mid April was to have one healthy smoothie for breakfast, every day for one month. So far I am on  day # 12. A healthy smoothie is one that is blended with fruits & vegetables; things like avocados, kale, spinach, carrots, fruits, yogurt, coconut water, almond milk, 100% fruit juice or 100% fruit & veggie juice.  No added sugar, no ice cream or frozen yogurt, just things that give you natural energy and tons of vitamins.

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Having at least one smoothie like this a day, will give you all of your required 5 serving of fruits & veggies each day. You will soon start to have more energy and you might start to care more about what you are eating the rest of the day. Personally for me, it gets my day started off on the right foot and while I absolutely adore the taste of coffee, when I have a smoothie first thing in the morning, before any other food or drinks, I notice I am less hungry and I don’t NEED that cup of coffee to function. I end up having a cup of coffee later in the morning, or early afternoon, and sometimes I can just skip it altogether and I don’t get a caffeine headache.

The other reason this Green Smoothie Challenge is since it’s only one smoothie per morning,  you don’t have to give up eating regular meals for lunch and dinner. This way you are guaranteed to get the nutrients your body desperately needs. Starting your day off with something in your stomach besides coffee, doughnuts, bagels, and croissants, or nothing at all, is so much better for you. You will have more brain power at work, pay better attention in school, and have more energy overall. Some smoothie/juice diets are for several weeks and for “cleansing”, and yes I will do those from time to time. For a true cleansing you only are allowed juices or smoothies. When I do a cleanse, I have 2-3 healthy smoothies a day, and a salad for lunch with only fruits, beans, nuts, and veggies, topped with a low fat balsamic vinaigrette.  No cheeses, no meats, no creamy dressings, no croutons, and no bacon bits!  90%-100% of your food intake should be vegetables or fruits during the cleanse.

To get you started on your 1 Month Green Smoothie Morning Challenge, I have given you all the tools and instructions on how to become a smoothie expert. Below are the instructions to make the best, creamiest, and highly nutritious beverages. Mose people are afraid to try these because of their  green or brownish colors. If you think about it, those are colors in nature, healthy, not dyed, untampered with natural goodness. Please give it a try, I promise you, you cannot taste the greens in these smoothies. They are just amazingly tasty cups of magnificent splendor. Once you go green, you will be hooked.


Note: you will want a combination of fresh greens, fresh fruits and frozen fruit. The frozen fruit helps your smoothie be nice and cold, I personally prefer mine cold. If you prefer to drink your smoothie closer to room temperature, then use all fresh fruit. Also, you will want to have just enough for about a week, otherwise if you buy too much fresh produce it will go bad before you can use it. I like to alternate my greens every 5-7 days. I use one up until it’s gone. Leafy greens seem to go bad the fastest, and you only use a cup at a time, so one bag of pre-washed & chopped kale lasted me a week.


::: List of ingredients used over the course of a month :::

  • Almond Milk ( or Soy Milk or regular milk)
  • Coconut Water
  • Pineapple Juice
  • Orange Juice
  • Fruit & Veggie Juice such as Tropicana Farmstand
  • Kale – fresh
  • Spinach – fresh
  • Bok Choy – fresh
  • Avacados – fresh
  • Carrots- fresh
  • Bananas – fresh
  • Strawberries -fresh or frozen
  • Blueberries – fresh or frozen
  • Peaches – fresh or frozen
  • Raspberries – fresh or frozen
  • Blackberries – fresh or frozen
  • Kiwi – fresh
  • Pineapple – fresh or frozen
  • Mango – fresh or frozen
  • Apples – fresh
  • Your favorite fruits
  • Rolled quick oats
  • Natural peanut butter

::: Tools & Tips of the Trade :::

While any blender will work for your smoothies, a mid-high quality blender will last you longer than a cheap one. Since you will be using the blender at least once a day and trying to puree tough greens, you should invest in a decent one.  I highly recommend a blender with an ice crushing feature.  If you can afford a blender in the $75.00 – $150.00 range, you should be very happy with any of these.

I own the Kitchen aid 5 speed high performance blender. I got a great deal on it at a department store. I think I paid about $75.00 a year or two ago. My favorite things about this blender are the ice crusher setting and the fact that it came with two pitchers in different sizes. It honestly makes the best homemade smoothies. The only other smoothies that are blended this well have been from Jamba Juice or Juice Shack. It also doesn’t hurt that it makes killer margaritas and pina coladas too! I LOVE THIS BLENDER.

KitchenAid

If you are willing to spend a little more cash on a good blender any of these would work as well. You really do not need to purchase a restaurant quality $300-$500 blender. Unless you are going to be making dozens of smoothies everyday, you really don’t need to spend the extra money.

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Blending instructions:
1. Blend your liquid(s) and your leafy greens first. I use the ice crush mode, then switch to liquify for another 10-20 seconds or so. You want the greens to liquify as much as possible for a nice smooth texture.
2. If you are adding carrots or other harder veggies, throw those in with the greens before you start to blend.
3. Then add the remainder of your ingredients.
4. Use the ice crush mode again to break up the frozen fruit, until they are completely broken up.
5. Set it to mix for about a 10-15 seconds.
6. Kick it in high gear on the highest setting, mine is liquify, for about another 10-20 seconds, until completely smooth. (There should be NO LUMPS or chunks of fruit left. If there are, keep blending until you have a beautiful creamy consistency.)
::: Pay close attention to your blender, each one will take a different amount of time. If you push it too hard, you can wear the motor down. If you have to use a lower setting, that’s ok :::



::: 1 Month Green Smoothie Challenge ::: DAYS # 1-10 :::



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Day 1.  Blue Almond

  • 1 cup kale
  • 1 cup almond milk
  • 1 cup frozen blueberries
  • 1 banana
  • 1\2 cup strawberries
  • 1\2 an apple

Day 2.  Tropical Treasure

  • 1 cup kale
  • 1/2 cup OJ
  • 1/2 cup pineapple juice
  • 1/2 cup frozen pineapple
  • 1/2 cup frozen mango
  • 1 banana
  • 3 strawberries

Day 3. Orange you glad I said Banana

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  • 1 cup kale
  • 1 cup OJ
  • 1 banana
  • 2 clementines
  • 1/2 cup frozen mango
  • 1/2 cup frozen blueberries

Day 4. PB&J Oatmeal Bar

  • 1 cup almond milk
  • 1 cup kale
  • 1/2 cup frozen blueberries
  • 1/2 cup frozen mango 
  • 1/2 banana
  • 1/2 cup fresh strawberries
  • 1/2 cup rolled oats
  • 1/3 cup plain yogurt
  • 1 heaping tablespoon of peanut butter

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Day 5. Pineapple Plantation

  • 1 cup pineapple juice
  • 1 cup kale
  • 1/2 cup frozen pineapple
  • 1/2 cup frozen mango
  • 1 kiwi
  • 1 banana

Day 6. Sea Green Paradise

  • 1/2 cup coconut water
  • 1/2 cup pineapple juice
  • 1 cup fresh spinach
  • 1/2 cup frozen pineapple
  • 1/2 cup frozen mango
  • 1/2 cup frozen peaches

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Day 7.  Strawberry Popeye

  • 1 cup Tropicana Pomegranate Blueberry Juice
  • 1 cup fresh spinach
  • 1/2 cup frozen cherries
  • 1/2 cup fresh strawberries
  • 1/3 cup plain yogurt
  • 1/2 cup frozen peaches

Day 8. Greener Pastures

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  • 1 cup Spinach
  • 1 cup almond milk
  • 3/4 cup frozen pineapples
  • 1/2 cup plain yogurt
  • 1 medium banana

Day 9.  Banana Berry Monster

  • 1 cup spinach
  • 1 cup almond milk
  • 1/2 avocado
  • 1 banana
  • 2 large strawberries
  • 1/2 cup frozen cherries
  • 1/2 cup frozen blueberries

Day 10. Peachy Purple Pom

  • 1 cup kale
  • 1 cup Tropicana Pomegranate & Blueberry  Juice
  • 1/2 avacado
  • 1 small banana
  • 1/2 cup frozen peaches
  • 1/2 cup frozen blueberries

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Samosa Pot Pie

If you love indian food, then you should have eaten at least one samosa in your lifetime. I have eaten dozens of these amazing little potato filled dough triangles. They are scrumptious. They have the just the right amount of seasoning and spice, combined with potatoes and peas they are the Indian version of American Pot Pies.

The only bad things about traditional samosas is they are far too small for a main meal, and they are usually deep fried. Well, what if I told you, you can take all the same elements and turn them into a ginormous pot pie that will feed 8-10 people?  You’re welcome.

Samosa Pot Pie

This recipe was inspired by one I saw on a vegetarian website, but as always I modified it to suit my family’s taste and needs.  If you are new to trying Indian cuisine, then this is a great dish to start with. It has a small amount of curry, and is not that spicy (although you can kick it up if you like to sweat while you eat.)  You can also add other veggies to it as you like, and serve it with a mint-cilantro sauce and your favorite chutney. We used Kozlowski Farms Apricot & Mango Roasted Chipotle Sauce. This is sweet with a little kick and can also be used for dips, grilling, and marinades. My husband loved this sauce so much over half the bottle is gone. Or if you want something with a little less heat, you might want to try Kozlowski Farms Mango & Apricot Chutney. 

Apricot & Mango Chipotle Sauce

Since this is a larger size pot pie, it’s perfect for a dinner party or potluck. If you have a large family this will be plenty to fill them up. Personally I prefer to have leftovers. Since my man is vegan, it’s much easier for us to have food prepared at home for him to take to work.  You can also prepare this ahead of time and freeze it. So what are you waiting for, go get your curry on!


:::  Samosa Pot Pie :::   Serves 8-10

Crust

  • 2½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tbs butter (or vegan margarine)
  • 2 tbs vegetable oil
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 1/2 tsp paprika
  • 1½ tsp dehydrated toasted onion spice *
  • 10-15 tbs of ice water

Filling

  • 7-8 medium potatoes, peeled and cubed ( I cut each potato into 6 cubes)
  • 1 Tbs. mustard powder
  • 1 tsp. curry powder
  • 1 tsp. ground ginger
  • ½ tsp. ground cumin
  • ½ tsp paprika
  • ½ tsp turmeric
  • ⅛ tsp. red pepper flakes, optional
  • 3 tsp. vegetable oil
  • 1 medium to large onion, diced
  • 2 medium carrot, diced
  • 5 cloves garlic, minced (1 Tbs.)
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • 1 cup frozen spinach
  • 1 to 2 cups water (or vegetable broth)
  • 2 tsp  sugar

For the Crust: Preheat oven to 400°F.

  1. Using your food processor, blend flour, salt, butter and slowly add in oil until clumps form.
  2. Add ice cold water, 1 Tbs. at a time, until dough holds together.
  3. Shape into 2 balls, one slightly larger than the other. 
  4. Roll out larger ball of dough (on floured surface) first to fit bottom & sides of pan
  5. Lay crust in pan and poke fork holes on bottom. Press edges up and make sure they come all the way up to the edge of the pan. I used an 11-inch circular cake pan, so I could have a thicker filling than a regular pie tin.  If you like less filling or just want a smaller pot pie, use 2-3 less potatoes and use a traditional pie tin.

For the Filling:

  1. Stir together mustard, curry, ginger, cumin, turmeric, paprika and red pepper flakes, if using, in bowl; set aside.
  2. Cook potatoes in boiling salted water 15 minutes, or until tender. Drain, return to pot, and mash, leaving small chunks.
  3. While potatoes are cooking, heat oil in skillet over medium heat.
  4. Add onion, carrot, and garlic, and sauté 7 -10 minutes, or until carrot is tender.
  5. Move onion mixture to side of pan, and add mustard seed mixture in center. Toast 30 seconds.
  6. Stir in peas, spinach and water (or broth). Fold onion mixture into potato mixture; stir in sugar.
  7. Season with salt and pepper, if desired.

Final Assembly:

  1. Scoop filling into pie/cake pan with the bottom crust
  2. Leave edges of crust clean so you can crimp the top and bottom crusts together
  3. Roll out second ball of dough big enough to cover the top of your pot pie 
  4. Cover filling with dough
  5. Using a little water, wet the edges of the bottom crust and start crimping the two crust edges together
  6. Trim away excess dough
  7. Cut X in center to vent steam
  8. Bake 40 to 45 minutes, or until crust is golden.
  9. Let stand 5 minutes before serving

* Dehydrated Toasted Onion Spice is from the Savory Spice Shop located in downtown Santa Rosa, CA. I bought this spice for the first time a couple months ago and this stuff tastes great on almost everything. One of my favorites was steamed fresh green beans with toasted almond slivers, a little olive oil and a sprinkling of the toasted onion and OMG they were to die for delicious. It really makes a difference using this version versus just granulated onion.  If you don’t have a spice shop near you, you can order this one online from the Savory Spice Shop.

Be a Tourist in Your Hometown – Part 1 West Sonoma County

:::  BE A LOCAL TOURIST :::

I bet many of you are probably a lot like me. You have lived in your city for years, but rarely go out and explore your domain. When you do go somewhere for a day-trip, it’s usually to San Francisco or the East Bay, or maybe a jaunt out to the coast. I mean who doesn’t love Bodega Bay or Pier 39, right?  We tend to go to places that we have been before, locations that are easy to find.

I challenge you to take at least one day this spring or summer and try out something new. Go be a tourist in your county. Get off the beaten path and go explore. Take a road you have never driven before or have no idea where it will lead to. (No cheating using GPS or Googlemaps.) If you are an obsessive planner, like me, you might want to choose your direction first, then search the net for at least one or two new places to stop at. Then let the rest of the day’s activities just happen.

I know what questions are roaming around in your head right now: “I am not spontaneous”, “I like to have a plan” or “What if sucks and it’s a huge waste of time?”. Or you might be saying:  “What if the food is disgusting?” or “I am awful with directions, what if I get lost?”  Well, the answer is quite simple: TAKE A CHANCE – DO SOMETHING DIFFERENT – HAVE AN ADVENTURE !  Seriously when was the last time you just got in your car, picked a direction and then went off to explore? No timelines, no GPS, just drive and see what happens? I guarantee even if the places you go are terrible, the adventure will become a fond memory.

If you are seriously nervous about this concept, then you can do a little research before heading out. But to save you time, I have already done some research for you. I will be posting separate blog entries by region with a list of my top must-stop locations. All you have to do is pick at least one of them, then jump in the car, and go enjoy. So what are you waiting for?

I find it best to take a friend with you. You will want someone to experience this with; to share in the triumphs and the defeats; to laugh when you get lost, and to be there to push the car if you run out of gas. A group of 2-4 people is perfect. I prefer a smaller group. Sometimes the more people you have the more opinions you get and the more stress you can have. This is meant to be fun. As adults we think we can’t have fun anymore, and boy we could not be more wrong. [ Note: taking silly photos of you along the way makes the trip even more fun!]

In 2014 so far I have been exploring the towns of Sebastopol, Bodega, Sonoma, and some locations in Napa County. I have mainly gone out on weekdays with one or two friends at a time.  If  you can take a day off work I highly recommend this. For one, there are less crowds and you tend to meet more locals that are really friendly. I tend to get more tastes at wineries because they are slower, and I have often received complimentary snacks as well. The pourers are chattier and I have met several wine makers and got to talk to them about their products. I was lucky enough to get a photo with a winemaker, have him sign the bottle, and got to experience the bottle of wine he personally bottled only 6 hours earlier that same day. You won’t usually get these opportunities on the weekends.  If there is a special place you really are dying to try, make that your focal point, then see if you can find some surprises along the way.



WEST SONOMA COUNTY – Sebastopol, Forestville, Bodega Bay



::: Wild Flour Bread :::

::: Hours: 8:30am to 6:30pm Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday
::: Location: 140 Bohemian Hwy, Freestone, CA 95472

Wild Flour

The glorious selection of fresh bread

Wild Flour

Yummy samples to try

Wild Flour

Myself in the garden

Wild Flour

Audrey & Melody in the garden

 

What’s Awesome about them: If you are heading out to the coast or just happen to be in Sebastopol, you should stop in here at Wild Flour for some truly remarkable crusty bread. All their bread is baked in a wood fired brick oven, that has pretty much stayed lit for the last 10 years. They offer free samples of lots of breads, you can eat in the beautiful garden where they grow vegetables, herbs and flowers.  They have many vegan items including scones, and they  have coffee, tea and other beverages, Be sure to check out all the beautiful murals inside.

Best Bets:  The (ginormous) Sticky Bun, Fougasse, Goat Flat and the scones {Please note they only take cash or checks.}


::: Enduring Comforts :::

::: Hours: not 100% sure – but seem to be open when Wild Flour is
:::  Location: 142 Bohemian Hwy, Freestone, CA 95472

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{From L to R: Audrey finds the hats : Melody admiring the wares : My friend Dusty looking dapper in a top hat}

What’s Awesome about them: Enduring Comforts is located right next to the Wild Flour Bread. They have a unique selection of new items and antiques. Its fun to stroll over and try on hats and scarves and then browse through the store checking out some of the more interesting antiques. Prices are reasonable, but I am not sure of the days they are open. I did go once when Wild Flour was closed on and they were also closed.

Best Bets:  Fabulous bar soaps, fun hats, jewelry, silly photos

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{Photos above: Some of the antiques and unique items in Enduring Comforts}


::: Patrick’s Salt Water Taffy :::

::: Hours: Mon-Thurs 10AM-6PM / Fri-Sun 10AM-7PM 
:::  Location: 915 Hwy 1 Bodega Bay, CA 94923

Patricks Salt Water Taffy

Best taffy on the whole West Coast!

What’s Awesome about them: If you are out at the Bodega coast, you just have to stop here at Patrick’s (look for the pink and white stripes). They seriously have the BEST salt water taffy I have ever devoured. And so you don’t wind up with a bag full of a flavor you hate, just ask for a (free) sample. Their prices are very reasonable. A small bag runs about $1.50, while larger bags are about $3.25. All taffy is sold in pre-portioned bags, some are one flavor per bag, but they also have great mixed bags as well. They have other candy for sale if you are one of the few people who do not like taffy and they do accept credit cards. There’s also a neat little eclectic shop next to them in the same parking lot. They carry a lot of nautical treasures, including mermaids, anchors, picture frames, pj’s, sweatshirts,  etc.

Best Bets: Chocolate mix, birthday cake, caramel swirl and rum


::: Red’s Apple Roadhouse :::

::: Hours: Tuesday-Sunday 8 a.m. – 9 p.m.
::: Location: 4550 Gravenstein Hwy. N (next to Mom’s Apple Pie) Sebastopol, CA

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{From L to R: Dusty at the entrance : Checking out the awesome menu }

What’s Awesome about them: If you are heading out Sonoma County’s west side (towards Forestville), Red’s Apple Roadhouse is a tasty stop to grab some of the best homestyle comfort farm-to-table food out there.  They also recently added a small tap room, so you can grab a local beer (or wine) with your meal. Some nights they have live music and they have seating inside and some outside on thier deck. I heard their Apple Cider doughnuts are to die for, but I have yet to order them.

Best Bets for Breakfast:  (Juicy & flavorful) Chicken & Waffles, Lemon Ricotta Pancakes
Best Bets for Lunch:  Pulled Turkey Sandwich, Pastrami Burger, don’t forget the onion rings!
Best Bets for Dinner:  (Juicy & flavorful) Fried Chicken Southern Dinner, Red’s Hot Brown


::: Kozlowski Farms :::

::: Hours: 9 am – 5 pm 7 Days a Week Closed:New Years, Easter, Thanksgiving & Christmas  
:::  Location: 5566 Gravenstein Hwy N (Hwy 116) Forestville, CA 95436

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{From L to R: Dusty at the entrance : Audrey with a trio of mustards to sample}

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{From L to R: Selection of wares : It’s the best chocolate sauce – TRY IT OR ELSE :  Delectable Pies }

What’s Awesome about them: If you are heading out Sonoma County’s west side (towards Forestville), past Red’s Apple Roadhouse, be sure to stop at Kozlowski Farms Visitor Center to try all sorts of jams, jellies and sauces!  They have a larger variety of flavors than you can find in the grocery store. You can pick up a few jars or make a custom gourmet gift basket with all sorts of goodies. They also have amazing PIES (better than Mom’s Apple Pies) and they come in two different sizes. Grab a smaller hand pie so you can get a variety of flavors and they are more portable. I tried almost everything they had out to sample, and when I asked about a few flavors that were not available to try, the clerk opened the fridge and let me pick out of all the ones I wanted to try that they had not put out that day!

Best Bets:  My favorite jams are the Apricot & Mango, Pear Butter, Pineapple, Blackberry, Fig & Muscat Wine, and the Strawberry Rhubarb. All of the pies are great and the Oatmeal Fruit bars are da bomb!


::: Russian River Vineyards  :::

::: Hours: Tasting room is open daily from 11 am to 5 pm
:::  Location: 5566 Gravenstein Hwy N (Hwy 116) Forestville, CA 95436

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What’s Awesome about them: At Russian River Vineyards, you will be treated to a beautiful location and greeted by Chester the sweet rescue dog, who also graces the label of one of their zinfadels. Also if you go to their website, they have a coupon for a free wine tasting for up to 4 people. This is one of the oldest vineyards in the region and they have been slowly upgrading the property to be 100% organic & green. Love the purple front door, and the tasting room staff is very friendly, knowledgeable and they have some really great wines. Also if you unable to drive after tasting so many scrumptious wines, you can stay there and grab a bite to eat at Cork’s. I have not have the chance to eat there yet, but I have heard the reviews were great. Be sure to ask about the bats in the belfry!

Best Bets: 2013 Sonoma Coast Gewurztraminer, 2012 RRV Chester’s Zinfandel, 2011 Estate Grown Pinot Noir


::: SUB ZERO Ice Creamery :::  

::: Hours:Mon-Thur: 12pm-9pm, Fri-Sat: 12pm- 10pm Sun: 11am-9 pm
::: Location: The Barlow @ 6760 Mckinley St. #11, Sebastopol, CA 95472

Sub Zero

The entrance to the most glorious ice cream in all the lands

What’s Awesome about them: So if you haven’t heard of the BARLOW yet in Sebastopol, then click here to find out all about it. It’s a new concept bringing together the community with artisans, wine makers, art and food.  They still have many open spaces just waiting for the right tenants to sign their name on the lease. SUB-ZERO  is one store within the complex that already has a line out the door most of the time. Don’t worry its usually not a long wait, and even if it is, I promise it will be worth it.

So here’s how it works (click here for the  MENU). They have no pre-made ice cream here. It’s all made fresh right before your very eyes using the highest quality and freshest ingredients. You start of by selecting a cream base, an ice cream flavor, and things to blend in (“toppings”), then sit back and watch as your bowl of ice cream is made instantly with liquid nitrogen!  Its dessert and a science lesson, how cool is that? You can even choose how soft or hard you like your ice cream. The flavor combinations are endless and you can’t go wrong with adding a freshly made waffle bowl or cone.

I have to admit that I am totally spoiled now, and no other ice cream compares to Sub Zero. It’s literally the creamiest, richest, smoothest, ice cream you will ever experience in your lifetime. Additionally, if you’re looking for a low-fat alternative, They are very smart and also have soy and rice milk on hand for anyone that is lactose intolerant or vegan. They have something for everyone! Also Friday nights beginning at 7:00 pm they have Fire-pit Fridays. Sit out by the pit and chat with the locals while you slurp up your delicious concoction. There’s also a bocce ball court next to the pit for anyone who wants to use up their energy.

Best Bets:  Specials of the month are pretty much always going to be a win win (February’s flavor was stellar), but another favorite was Marshmallow Custard Cream, with graham crackers and chocolate chips. It tastes just like a s’more.

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{From L to R: Melody, Audrey and myself with our amazing treats : Looks like a zombie movie, but nope it’s just the liquid nitrogen }