Archives for July 2012

Lilla Rose giveaway

With August coming soon, I’m working hard on writing projects that I’d like to complete before school starts.  The one I’m most excited about is my next book proposal– I’ll talk more about that soon, hopefully.  Posting will be light during the next couple weeks as I work to finish that proposal.  But I do have a couple of fun giveaways during the next couple of weeks, so check in with me now and then, OK?

This week I’m giving away a Lilla Rose hair clip, thanks to consultant Heather Mason.  These clips are gorgeous. This sweet Hematite pin in a size medium works well in my fine hair for an up-do.  It looks nice than my usual pony-tail, and is more comfortable.  I’m always yanking my pony-tail holders out because they hurt.  Not so with this clip.

The other Lilla Rose clip that we own is the Fallen Leaf pin in a size large.  This one is big enough to hold a LOT of hair– it works well even in the very thick, curly hair of our oldest Ethiopian daughter.

As lovely as these pins are, I still thought they were spendy when I first saw them. You know me– I don’t spend money easily.  But what you can’t tell in photos is the quality of these hairpins.  They are sturdy and strong and so easy to use. When I held one, I was immediately thinking of people who’d LOVE it as a Christmas gift.

To enter to win one of these clips, go to the Lilla Rose website and check out the selection.  Pick one clip that you really love, then comment below and tell me which clip you chose.  If your name is selected for the drawing, you will win that clip.

For up to three additional entries:

  •  ‘Like’ this post on facebook, and comment again to tell me you did so.
  • Share this giveaway link on twitter, and come back to comment again.
  • Share this post on Pinterest, and come back to comment again.

That’s a total of 4 possible entries. Just make sure your first comment tells me which pin you’ve selected.  I’ll select a winner on Friday.  Have a great week!

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Book Review: An Economist Gets Lunch

I found An Economist Gets Lunch: New Rules for Everyday Foodies by Tyler Cowen at my local library and guessed I’d enjoy it.   After all, the book combines three big interests of mine:  affordable eating, ethnic cuisine, and travel.  Cowen believes that great food doesn’t have to come from the most expensive restaurants.  You can find great eats in cities all over the world, and he offers interesting ways to suss out those hidden gems.

Just a few examples: When getting a taxi at an airport in a big city, pick an old cab driver– he’s likely to know the city well– and ask him where he himself likes to eat.  Chances are, he’ll lead you someplace affordable and delicious.

The best pit barbecue places are usually found on outskirts of small towns.  Big city fire regulations are too stringent to allow the restaurants to stay open, so they usually end up on the edges of small towns.  Also the best BBQ is usually served at lunch, not dinner.  Since a good barbecue place cooks its meat all night, they’ll often be sold out of the best cuts of beef by early afternoon. What’s still around by dinner has often been cooked a bit too long.

It’s hard to find authentic Indian food in America these days.  Cowen suggests looking for a Pakistani restaurant instead.  The style of food is very similar, but less likely to be Westernized.

When you’re on the hunt for a great meal in Italy (I don’t currently need this info, but I hope to one day) it’s best to avoid the three most popular tourist cities: Rome, Venice, and Florence.  Apparently restaurants there cater to tourists, which usually leads to less authentic cuisine served by busy chefs who know most of these folks won’t ever come back anyway.  If you must eat in those cities, pick busy restaurants on the outskirts of the cities, as those tend to be more frequented by locals who know where the food is good.  And don’t miss Sicily–the food there is heaven for foodies.

The book felt a bit disjointed at times, and some of the tips are of no earthly use to me in my current life.  (I’m not planning to eat French food in Japan anytime soon despite the fact that the Japanese are apparently masters at it.)

But what I loved about the book was its tips for finding good places in any city, and its emphasis on the power that we have as consumers to choose and shop and cook for ourselves.  Maybe you want to find a good Chinese (or Indian, or Mexican) restaurant in your town, or in a city you’re visiting soon.  Or maybe you want to find some high quality, low cost ingredients to whip up a meal in your own kitchen.  Either way, you CAN eat well without spending a fortune.  That’s something I’ve believed for years, and it was invigorating to read someone else’s tips for doing that very thing.

Random running factoids

I’ve discovered if I just start every day in my running clothes, I’m much more likely to run. I almost always start my runs with a mile on a ditch bank alongside a farmer’s field near our house.  Then I either turn around and head back home for a total of 2 miles, or I go around the (country) block which is a run of 3.6 miles.



On Monday I headed out with zero enthusiasm.  My legs felt tired before I started, and I fully intended only a slow 2-miler.  But the morning was beautifully cool and a quarter mile into the run I realized I wasn’t as tired as I thought.  I ended up doing the nicest 3.6 miles that I’ve ever done.  It felt easy and fun.  I was so glad I’d gotten out there.  The success of that run made the whole day feel better.


I’ve maintained a 20-lb weight loss for nearly a year and a half now, so that feels really good.  One thing that’s discouraging though (and yes, I know, this is total vanity):  after nearly two years of running, I still don’t have ‘runner’s legs.’  The muscles ARE there, but they’re … ahem…padded. Bah.

If I really want that particular running ‘trophy’, I probably need to lose a minimum of 10 more pounds, which would put me smack in the middle of normal weight for my height instead of at the top edge of normal.  I could do it if I gave up bedtime snacks.  Boo.  I don’t wanna.  But every time I have a snack at bedtime these days, I consciously think, ‘this is why I don’t have runner’s legs yet.’  The first step is awareness, right?

A step in the right direction would be to only snack half the time.  And maybe up my miles gradually if I can do it without getting injured.  I’ve been feeling really good lately, and am running 10-12 miles most weeks.  If I ran more like 15-18 a week, PLUS cut out three 300-calorie snacks, that’d equal half a pound of weight loss a week.  That 10 pounds could be gone by Christmas. Hm.


One thing about running out in the country is that there are always random dogs.  I pretty much know the dogs on my route– which ones just sleep under the pickup trucks, which ones sound mean but are well fenced, which ones have owners who yell at them if they get obnoxious, and which ones leave you alone as long as you’re on the opposite side of the road.  But then there are the random ones the scare the liver out of you.

One came roaring out at me the other day from a place where I’d never seen a loose dog.  He was big and he had that angry stiffness to his body that means business.  I veered across the road and he came out from the yard and followed.  I ended up having to directly face him, arms up, yelling in my biggest voice.  Finally he stopped and I ran on, backwards for a few seconds, arms still up, still watching him as I got some distance, seconds later realizing my legs were feeling like jelly from the adrenaline rush.

John has taken to running with mace and he’d been telling me to bring it when I run too.  I’d been resisting because I didn’t really want to think about weapons.  But after that dog scared me good, I’ve taken his advice.  I have to admit the added protection makes me feel better, and not only in relation to dogs.  I run on quiet roads, and it doesn’t hurt to know I’ve got a defense if someone gets a bad idea.


Before I started running two years ago, my blood pressure usually ran somewhere around 128/78.  Not bad, but recent recommendations suggest that it really is better if your diastolic pressure (the lower number) is further below 80.  This morning I had my blood pressure checked, and it was 98/60, with a resting heart rate of 68.  My resting heart rate in the past was always 80 or more.  So those numbers are way better. I really feel good about what running has done for my health. It’s been great to discover strengths that I didn’t know I had.

What about you?  What motivates you to keep going with an exercise program?  To get out there and move even when you don’t feel like doing it?


What’s happening in my kitchen

I was intrigued by Frugal Girl‘s report of what is going on in her kitchen today and thought I’d share what’s happening in my kitchen too.

This morning we had granola for breakfast.  I really ought to make it more often because we all really like it.

We have the beginnings of injera developing two big bowls on the back counter.  It always looks a little doubtful while doing its thing– but it becomes a yummy sourdough-type flatbread.  We’ll have Ethiopian food for dinner tomorrow night– yum!!

Today we picked the very first cabbage out of our garden.  Lunch was crab salad with Asian vinaigrette dressing. The fresh cabbage was really sweet and wonderful. The kids also had chicken noodle soup.  The chicken broth was homemade from cooking a whole chicken the other day and had carrots and zucchini and garlic in it.  The ramen that I added at the end was…well, ramen.  I’m liking the stuff less and less these days– I’ve been trying to eat healthier– but the kids all still beg for ramen.  So I compromise by at least making it with good homemade broth.

Also on the back counter I have dried tomatoes soaking. Tonight’s dinner is Baked Penne with Sun-dried Tomatoes .  And no, that wasn’t on my menu plan, but I saw it on pinterest last night, thought of the dried tomatoes languishing in the pantry since last year, and decided to give it a shot.  I’ll have to make the sauce dairy-free and mushroom-free since we are OUT of milk and mushrooms at the moment and I’m resisting the urge to go to the store.  But with enough butter and cheese I’ll think it’ll work fine.  (Actually, most of the kids will probably like it better without the mushrooms.) Probably I’ll season it a bit different than the original recipe too, since reviews found it a little bland.  Hopefully most of us will like it.

What about you?  Got anything going in the kitchen right now?


Meal planning: what about snacks?

In comments on my meal planning post, I was asked what I do about snacks for kids.

Afternoon snacks happen maybe once or twice a week, usually on cookie-baking day when fresh cookies are coming out of the oven, or in the form of a popsicle poolside on a hot day. (Yes, the junky food-coloring kind– yikes!)  Sometimes in the afternoon I’ll set leftover breakfast pancakes out for snacking.  Occasionally I’ll offer carrot sticks or other veggies.  I figure if kids are truly hungry, they’ll eat carrot sticks and pancakes.  If not, they can wait til dinner.  The only time I buy snacks like potato chips and pop is when we’re having a party or going on a trip.

Dessert is actually more frequent than afternoon snacks:  I serve sweet treats (like butterscotch chip cookies, apricot crisp or cranberry pumpkin bread)  at dessert probably 4 or 5 meals a week.  Often teenagers do my baking for me– in fact, it is usually a teenage girl with a snack craving who decides to bake cookies in the afternoon, and blesses everyone with her industry at dinner.

Evening snacks are standard after swimming at the rec center, which we do 2 nights a week during the school year.  Kids come home hungry!  Snacks usually consist of a cookie, fruit, or a slice of homemade bread.  Movie night with the whole clan usually calls for a couple different desserts, and often popcorn as well.

One of the reasons I don’t do afternoon snacks EVERY day is that I don’t want my kids filling up on goodies at 4 and then turning up their noses at dinner at 5:30.  It still happens sometimes, but I think that it would happen a lot more often if we snacked every afternoon.

You definitely have to take your family and your style of cooking into consideration when you’re thinking about snacking.  Right now our youngest child is 7.  We did afternoon snacks much more often when we had toddlers and preschoolers.  Little kids often don’t eat enough at meals to last 4 hours without getting grumpy.

One more thing: meals at our house tend to be pretty substantial. Rarely does a meal consist only of sandwiches, and (come to think of it) when I do try to get away with a light meal like a main-dish salad, I have hungry people sooner and end up having to come up with a snack.

I’m sure there are times when kids wish that snacks were more exciting at our house.  But I know that would just tempt us all to eat more than we should.  (Me especially!) As it is, we are all normal weight and in good health.  I hope that our snack choices will give our kids a jump on good health in future years as well.


For more snacks and desserts, be sure to check out my recipe index!

To tell our children

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If I sing but don’t have love
I waste my breath with every song
I bring an empty voice, a hollow noise
If I speak with a silver tongue
Convince a crowd but don’t have love
I leave a bitter taste with every word I say

So let my life be the proof,
The proof of Your love
Let my love look like You and what You’re made of
How You lived, how You died
Love is sacrifice
So let my life be the proof,
The proof of Your love

What my meal planning looks like

I tallied up my grocery spending for the month– $661 so far –and I’m not really wanting to spend more than another $40.  So I sat down with  my cookbooks and went through the freezers for ingredients and did a menu plan for the rest of the month that would allow us to eat mostly from the pantry, freezer, and garden.  I usually do a menu plan every couple weeks, and stick it on the side of the fridge to remind me of the plans. Here’s what I came up with this time around.  Some of the meals will be made two separate times (thus the x2 notation), and a few others will be doubled to serve at two different meals.

 Burgers and oven fries  for Sunday lunch (x2)
 Hamburger zucchini stir-fry  (x2)
 Make-your-own pizza- crust from FF  (x2)
 Thai chard wraps (x2)
 Lentils and rice (doubled)
 Chicken and rice soup (doubled)
 Chicken, sweet potato, squash stir-fry
 Homemade corn dogs (Friday sleepover, per kid request)
 Spaghetti frittata
 Injera and shiro, plus dinich wat or doro wat
 Spaghetti and meatballs
 Cranberry chicken walnut salad

You’ll notice that in most cases I don’t specify when I am going to cook each meal.  I like the freedom of being able to decide on the fly, depending on how the day went and how much time I have to cook.  I find that if I have the dinners figured out, the other meals are easier.  Breakfast is usually pancakes, or oatmeal, or eggs/toast. Cereal is usually saved for Sunday morning. I also plan to make a batch of granola, and we usually have homemade yogurt in quart jars in the fridge. Lunch is our leftover meal. I pull recent leftovers out of the fridge and the kids zap whatever they choose from those options.  Pretty easy.

My grocery list after making the menu is pretty short. Because I’m making corn dogs AND Ethiopian food, I’ll need to buy oil.  I don’t have enough potatoes or milk.  And doubtless there will be other things that I discover are running low.  But I’m pretty confident that I already have a good 90% of the groceries we’ll need for the rest of the month.  What about you?  Do you meal-plan, or do you fly by the seat of your pants?


Gluten Free Chocolate Brownies

I haven’t gone truly gluten free, but I’ve cut way back on the amount of wheat I’m eating. For some reason after sharing this picnic cake recipe, I got a major chocolate craving. Google produced dozens of gluten free brownie recipes, from which I pulled together my own recipe.  It ended up looking most similar to this recipe but definitely got some Mary tweaks along the way.



  • 1 cup peanut butter
  • 2 tablespoons of butter, softened
  • 2 cups grated zucchini
  • 1/2 cup teff flour or rice flour
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar (or honey)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 cup dark chocolate chips
  • 2 ounces good quality dark chocolate, grated


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a small bowl combine teff flour, baking soda and cinnamon.  Mix well.  Combine all remaining ingredients in a large bowl, adding the flour mixture at the end and stirring well.   Pour into a greased 9×12 baking pan. Bake for 35-45 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted just off-center comes out clean.  You can bake just a bit longer if center still seems jiggly and undercooked at the end of 45 minutes.  But when it comes to brownies, I’d rather have something a little gooey in the middle, so I try not to over-bake.  Enjoy!

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