Holiday Prep – Part 1

Let’s face it: We will forever be the family buying the sad Charlie Brown tree on December 23rd, but this year I’m trying.

Winter comes early here and lasts forever, so I wanted something pieces that could bridge November to March, not just the unofficial holiday season.

I went with two themes: cozy and buffalo plaid.

I share this perfectly imperfect shot to showcase the overall effect, but wow! Painful reality. Two kids and a dog seem to continuously rearrange my pillow fort, push apart the sofa sections and make the blinds quite janky.

These cuties are from Crate and Barrel:

The plaid pillow covers are straight off of Amazon. I slipped them over pillows we already had.

Ditto the plaid throw; it’s Amazon:

We have six fireplaces but I don’t decorate all of them. Here’s the start of the mantle in the main floor family room:

Please excuse the tape. This was a trial. That failed. Re-taping subsequently commenced.

I found these two cute garlands at Michael’s, a craft store that overwhelms me and I try to avoid. There was some weird promotion going on and they gave me the nutcracker for free at the checkout.

The candle is from Crate and Barrel and smells wonderfully like winter. I bought several to (hopefully) last until spring.

The last thing I did, for now:

I bought two faux boxwood wreaths at Target last year and I swap out the bows depending on the season. For someone who is generally lazy, this has been a great decorating hack.

But I’m not done! There is more coming. Will keep posting the updates.

Awesome Smoothie Ingredient

Lately I’ve been back into using my Vitamix to make protein-rich smoothies for breakfast, which I pour into an insulated bottle (this one) and drink when I remember them, which is usually around 11 AM.

My usual recipe: 8 ounces of unsweetened almond milk, a scoop of vanilla protein powder, and frozen fruit.

Even though this process only takes five minutes, I’m always on borrowed time in the morning and I’m all for anything that streamlines my routine.

And confession: I also recently discovered that the estimated portions of frozen fruit that I have been using – measured with the time-tested technique I refer to as “eyeballing” the amount – are roughly double what they should be.

Last weekend I picked up this bag of frozen mango chunks at the grocery store:


But what I didn’t realize is that inside this bag, there are five pre-portioned bags of mango chunks.


Each bag is eight ounces, which is the perfect amount for a smoothie. The stats aren’t bad, either, since each bag contains 90 calories and there is no added sugar.




Trying My Hand at Milk Bar’s Compost Cookies

Last year during a trip to Washington, D.C., one of my (many) must-do stops was the D.C. outlet of Milk Bar, a renowned NYC bakery from chef Christina Tosi.

Since my visit was in May and the weather was warm and sunny, most people in line were ordering Milk Bar’s famous soft serve “cereal milk” ice cream, which is infused with brown sugar and corn flakes so that it tastes like the milk at the bottom of a bowl of sweetened cereal. 

I had my eye on something else: compost cookies.

Here’s their description from Milk Bar’s website:

Packed with pretzels, potato chips, coffee, oats, graham cracker, butterscotch and chocolate chips, this cookie strikes the perfect balance between salty and sweet!

I agreed 100% after trying one, but had to have a second cookie the following day to confirm. Thorough research, etc.

Considering that I live far, far away from any of the Milk Bar bakeries (probably a good thing), I was pretty jazzed to discover Compost Cookie mix last week at Target.

This mix retails for $4.99 and is supposed to make 12 cookies. You are required to add one egg, 4 tablespoons of butter, and crushed pretzels and potato chips.

I skipped the pretzels, mostly because we didn’t have any.

The dough was incredibly sweet, almost too much, but I powered through some tastes for the sake of being a thorough reporter. You’re welcome.

Even without the pretzels, I still had enough dough to make 15 – not 12 – cookies.

I baked them for 11 minutes at 375 F and that was probably a minute too long.

They were slightly more done that I normally would have liked.

I had one with a glass of almond milk while they were still warm.

It was chewy and delicious.

Milk Bar is extremely generous with their recipes. If you’re not as lazy as I am, you can make almost all of their bakery items from scratch using recipes found here. 

P.S. While I was all about the compost cookie in this post,  I would give an even higher rating to Milk Bar’s Birthday Cake Truffles, which are out of this world, dangerously delicious. Fortunately there isn’t a mix for these.






Our Home Chef Experience

As I’ve mentioned many times, I hate all domestic chores. 

Especially cooking.

When Spouse and I were first married nearly 19 (!) years ago, I frequently made ambitious but only semi-successful dinners, often inviting friends over to eat un-tested recipes cooked in the 1950s kitchen of our 600 square foot apartment.

The most famous fail was when I made salmon for friends and the directions said to wash fish, so I did.

With Dawn detergent.

The dish bubbled in the oven.

My subsequent strategy for dinner parties became this: get guests intoxicated enough to mostly ignore (and forgive) any missteps with the food.

When kids came along, we didn’t make a lot of effort to step up our game. Shame on us.

While I would assemble things for dinner (a salad, frozen veggies, maybe a sandwich), to say that I cooked often would be a stretch.

The creepy pizza delivery guy also became a little too familiar with our regular Friday night order.

With our pending move and the many changes coming with it (especially the fact that I am gone 3-4 nights per week), we decided that family dinners were more important than ever.

Enter Home Chef.

Spouse did the research on many of the home delivery dinner services available (so many!), and we selected Home Chef based on the fact that they can deliver to our town and have gluten free offerings (mandatory for Trixie – 8 – who has severe celiac disease).

Currently, we get two meals per week. Spouse usually ends up cooking one while I am gone and usually we make one as a family on the weekend.


  • These meals are definitely better than what we would make on our own. Some I would describe as restaurant quality, like Cajun shrimp and cheesy grits.
  • Speaking of grits: this is something I never would have made on my own. Never. Having grown up in Wisconsin, grits were NOT a staple in our house. While I’ve had them a few times as an adult – both sweet and savory – they aren’t something I particularly like or crave. But with Home Chef, I found out they were pretty easy to make and grits with cheese and butter, oh my. Yum.
  • My kids have been introduced to new flavors. Last weekend we made a Korean inspired meal with pork and an absolutely delicious cabbage slaw. I don’t eat pork, but I went nuts on that slaw. So good.
  • Portions are large. We order meals to feed four people, but even when we eat a lot (see above re: going nuts on the slaw), there are leftovers.


  • It takes us absolutely forever to make a meal. When we have plenty of time, like a leisurely Saturday night, this isn’t a big deal, but weeknights are a stretch to get dinner on the table before the kids’ (theoretical) bedtime.
  • It’s a lot more work than we are used to doing. There’s always so much chopping.
  • The kitchen is invariably a huge mess by the time we’re done.
  • The packaging seems extremely wasteful, especially the cold packs and lining materials in the boxes.
  • It’s not cheap. So far we’ve made every meal we’ve received, but there will be a time that we don’t get to one and have to toss the ingredients, and I will be angry at throwing away money when this day comes.
  • I can’t eat a lot of it. I eat seafood but not beef, chicken or pork. The rest of my family does. We did not sign up for vegetarian options, but we could have. Given the gluten restriction and our kids’ tastes (which tend to run meat-y), we opted to keep meat in the mix and nix the gluten rather than go vegetarian. I still like the sides that come with the meals, though, and I usually make something extra for myself (salad) and fill up on the sides.
  • While well-packaged, some of the meat has leaked. It did not seem spoiled, but it’s unappetizing and potentially unsafe to say the least.

Overall, Home Chef has been a good experiment for us. We’ve been using the service for about 3 months, and it’s still novel. There may come a time when it isn’t, but for now we’ll stick with it.

Final comment: while opinions in our family have generally been positive about the food, Spouse did find this note written by Trixie earlier this week:


P.S. This post is NOT sponsored in any way by Home Chef. We use them and I thought I’d share the experience, good and bad.

P.P.S. This blog does not, in fact, have any sponsors, although I would welcome an opportunity to shamelessly plug brands I love, like Louis Vuitton. So, Vuitton, if you are reading this, I would be happy to review your spring 2017 collection.

Stuff I Would Cook or Make: Cheesy Baked Cauliflower

Over the weekend my friend T. described a cheesy baked cauliflower dish that she’d made. It was a riff on mac-n-cheese, except with cauliflower.

It sounded delicious.

I decided to make my own version. Without a recipe.


If you are a regular reader, you know that I hate all domestic chores, but especially cooking, so this was a bold and unusual move.

I started with a 16 oz bag of crumbled cauliflower rice.


Photo from Pinterest

I decided to add protein via a 15 oz can of (rinsed) garbanzo beans mixed with the cauliflower.

To make it creamy, I added 8 oz of fat-free cream cheese.


I put all of these in a microwave-safe bowl and cooked for four minutes. After stirring and tasting, I decided it sorely lacked flavor and added about a tablespoon of Italian seasoning and salt and pepper to taste. Big improvement.

Here’s where I made a mistake: in my zeal to make this dish healthy, I used two cups of fat-free shredded cheddar.


Don’t use this

This was a bad decision. Not only is this cheese waxy and flavorless, it does not melt well. Do yourself a favor and get reduced fat cheese, the sharper the better. Or go nuts and get full fat. Just avoid the orange stuff above.

I stirred half of the cheese into the cauliflower mix and poured it into a 9″ x 13″ baking dish. The rest of the cheese went on top.



The casserole went into a 350 F oven for about 35 minutes. I kept waiting for the cheese to melt and make a satisfying golden brown crust, but that never really happened.

I served it with a salad.


Verdict: in the end, this was pretty tasty. No joke! I liked it enough to have leftovers at lunch the next day.

My kids hated it, though. Spouse didn’t try it.

So there you have it.

P.S. I think this dish still has potential, especially if you get the cheese right. There is also room to add in a lot of other veggies. Sun dried tomatoes would be terrific in here.

Stuff I Would Cook or Make: Sweet Potato Toast

Late to the game as always, I discovered sweet potato toast last week.

Apparently this has been a Raging Thing on social media sites for a while.

“Toast” is a misnomer here, because no bread is involved.

Instead a slice of sweet potato is placed directly in the toaster, topped in an appealing and photogenic manner worthy of Instagram, and then consumed.

It sounded easy enough for me to try.


Slicing the sweet potato was harder than I thought.

Here’s my first attempt to get an even slice:



As someone who (successfully) performs surgery on other humans, I was cursing this sweet potato before I got two reasonable pieces.


One of them

Into the toaster they went:


Full disclosure: I put them through four toast cycles before they seemed ready. Both were about half a centimeter thick.

Here’s what they looked like when they were done:


I topped them with avocado, a bit of fat-free feta and red pepper flakes. Vegetarian frittata rounded out lunch.


A close-up shot:


Verdict: this was surprisingly delicious. 

Granted, I had just finished a 12 mile run and was extremely hungry by the time I ate these, but they were much better than expected.

If I’d invest in some decent knives or even a mandoline, this would be even easier. Regardless, I’ll be making this again. 

Have you tried sweet potato toast? Would you?


Something I Cooked: Quinoa Lasagna Casserole

I’m not sure what got into me, but last Friday I decided to cook food for our family.


Not this, for once. (Photo via Grubhub)

I regularly read the Twin Cities-based blog Fit Foodie Finds (tagline: Where Healthy Meets Delicious), and last week featured casseroles.

Friday’s recipe – the wordy Naked Spinach Quinoa Lasagna Casserole – looked good. Like, really good.

The directions and steps also seemed feasible for someone with limited kitchen skills.

Sprouted quinoa anchored this vegetarian dish, and it didn’t require pre-cooking anything. (It’s also gluten-free, which meant everyone in our family could eat it).

I basically followed the above recipe to the letter, minus the onions because I hate them. Dry quinoa and raw veggies went directly into a glass baking dish:


A simple sauce with marina and cheeses (ricotta, low-fat cottage) was poured over everything and baking commenced.


Halfway through the baking

Cheese and tomato slices were added at the end:


I served it with one of my favorite reds:


This was so delicious! Spouse liked it and the kids both ate a reasonable amount, which is an all-around WIN in my book.

I’m not going to re-type the recipe since I linked to it above, but I highly recommend it and also checking out Fit Foodie Finds for lots of healthy kitchen inspiration. This Friday night experiment was so successful that I’ll do it again.

Look out, Family! A new chef’s in town.



Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Overload


The Trader Joe’s October Flyer arrived yesterday.

I get a weird thrill out of reading this each month, mentally filling a shopping basket with frozen Indian entrees, unique cheeses and salted caramel everything.

This month TJ’s went on pumpkin overdrive. 

Here’s a partial list of all of the pumpkin-y goodness:

  • Pumpkin bread and muffin mix (also comes gluten-free)
  • Honey roasted pumpkin ravioli
  • Pumpkin toaster pastries
  • Pumpkin spice granola bark
  • Pumpkin biscotti
  • Pumpkin panettone
  • Pumpkin spiced pumpkin seeds
  • Dark chocolate pumpkin spice salted caramels
  • Pumpkin pie spice cookie butter
  • Pumpkin Joe Joe’s sandwich cookies
  • Pumpkin ice cream
  • Mini pumpkin pies
  • Pumpkin macarons
  • Pumpkin bread pudding
  • Sticky pumpkin cake
  • Pumpkin cheesecake
  • Pumpkin pie mochi ice cream
  • Ginger pumpkin mini ice cream sandwiches
  • Pumpkin spice granola
  • Pumpkin waffles
  • Pecan pumpkin instant oatmeal
  • Pumpkin rolls with pumpkin spice icing
  • Pumpkin O’s cereal
  • Greek pumpkin yogurt
  • Cold pressed pumpkin harvest juice
  • Pumpkin spice almond beverage
  • Pumpkin spice caramel corn
  • Pumpkin tortilla chips
  • Pumpkin soup crackers
  • Pumpkin cranberry crisps
  • Pumpkin cream cheese
  • Pumpkin spice rooibos tea
  • Pumpkin butter
  • Pita crisps with cranberries and pumpkin seeds
  • Chocolate mousse pumpkins
  • Pumpkin pancake mix (also comes gluten-free)
  • Pumpkin scones with maple icing
  • Pumpkin chai spice loaf
  • Pumpkin vinaigrette
  • Petite pumpkin spice cookies
  • This pumpkin walks into a bar cereal bars
  • Pumpkin spice chai
  • Pumpkin spice coffee
  • Pumpkin body butter


  • Pumpkin flavored dog treats

Really, this is too much.


This guy wants those pumpkin waffles



SlimCado Review

Are these showing up in your local grocery store?


It’s a SlimCado, Yo!

SlimCados are billed as having half the fat and 35% fewer calories than regular avocados, so when I saw them in the produce aisle I had to have one.

Spoiler alert: SlimCados aren’t new. They’re a 100+ year old variety that was given a marketing makeover.

In essence, they’re oversized avocados grown in Florida and they’re usually two to three times the size of what most of us think of as an avocado (that would be the Californian Hass variety). SlimCados have smooth skin and a large pit.


And they are terrible.

Part of what reduces the fat and calorie content of the SlimCado is the water content, which is much higher than what we think of with regular avocados.

End result: SlimCados are watery and not creamy. Their flavor is bland. Take what you love about an avocado, subtract 90% of your expectations, and you’ve got a SlimCado.

I tried to make it work.


I started by microwaving some asparagus spears and mushrooms, then added 3/4 cup of Egg Beaters. I cooked it in a round plastic container coated with coconut oil spray, which gave it a pleasing shape but probably poisoned me with innumerable endocrine disrupting chemicals.

I added slices of the SlimCado, salsa and crumbled feta to the end product:


The SlimCado was so bad that I didn’t finish it.

And as an avid My Fitness Pal devotee, I am usually all about consuming and recording the calories.

Not this time, SlimCado. Not this time.


Cheap Thrill: Kids’ Bath Edition


Trixie (6) and MGM (8) saw these Crayola Color Bath Dropz at Target a few weeks ago, and since it was in the middle of one of our frantic weekly trips where we race through the store, sweating and randomly tossing things into the cart, I didn’t see them among our purchases until we made it home.


We tried them out that night, and they were were a hit!

The Bath Dropz come in red (looks purple in the container, but they’re red), yellow and blue.

One will tint the water (and not the tub or kids, a very important point), but two or more really makes for a fun kid bath.

Our favorite combos:

  • 2 yellows + 1 red = bright orange
  • 2 blues + 1 red = deep purple
  • 2 yellows + 1 blue = grass green
  • 2 blues + 1 yellow = a gorgeous turquoise, similar to Caribbean water

At around $4 for 60 tablets, these were a cheap thrill.