Store Bought? Definitely Not.

Posted November 25th, 2009 by Julia
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Mountain Train Tunnel made by Katie

Mountain Train Tunnel made by Katie

Most people who know our family know how much my little GIRL loves to play with trains, trucks, and backhoes.  She has a flowery fairy garden bedroom(pretty much the only girlie thing she has besides a few dresses). She loves her books that are now EVERYWHERE, but recently her biggest interest are her trains.  Our family recently has started to make a shift to owning less stuff and really looking at what we purchase and how it affects the planet.  Then I ran into a small issue.  Well not that small actually.  More like a 36 lb, 3 ft 3.5 in., blonde, blue-eyed, three year old variety that was determined to get us, her Grammy and Pop, or Santa to buy her a GIGANTIC train set at Costco that was just calling to her.  It really isn’t about the money because it wasn’t that expensive but… we are starting to consider the impact of too many toys and did I mention it’s HUGE!?  Our house is already home to an indoor slide/playhouse, a bouncy horse, a life size sheepdog, a play kitchen… oh yeah and ALL of those BOOKS!  So enough of the big stuff already.  Enough STUFF in general.  BTW  the next person who gives her a stuffed animal has to take 10 home with them… consider yourself warned. 😉

So what’s a mom to do when the whining ensues about Thomas the Train REALLY NEEDING a tunnel and a mini tantrum is in the making?  She asks her 3 year old.  (Thanks Love and Logic parenting)  😀  “What a bummer!  You really want a tunnel, but we don’t have one.  Hmmm How can we have a tunnel that doesn’t cost anything and we can get rid of when we’re done with it?”  “We can make one Mommy.”  Ah HA!  I have a genius for a child.

But then… I start thinking,  “Holy moly what in the world am I going to make a tunnel out of at 4 p.m. in the afternoon while I’m cooking dinner at the same time?”  This is what we came up with:

Our Homemade Mountaintop Train Tunnel

1 paper grocery bag turned inside out

All purpose craft glue, Elmers, whatever is gooey and you have on hand

A bag of cotton balls

Crayons, markers, paints etc.

A pair of scissors for mom

Turn the grocery bag inside out.  Lay the bag flat so you can cut both sides of the tunnel entrance & exit at the same time. Next draw trees, rocks, whatever you would see on a mountain, all over the bag.  You can be as fancy as painting the whole thing… yada yada yada but I really wanted this to be her project and her vision.  Next open the bag back up and crinkle it a bit to give it a rounded top but this doesn’t have to be perfect at all.  Tear apart cotton balls and glue to the top of the mountain.    That’s it!  A free tunnel that is fun to play with for a couple of days then it’s completely recyclable.

This was a very fun project that kept Kate entertained while I was cooking dinner, took a minimal amount of items to make, but most importantly showed our daughter that you don’t have to BUY something to get what you want.  Using a little creativity you can make something that doesn’t have a negative impact on the planet AND is actually more fun than playing with a piece of plastic for a couple of days.  The very best part was how excited she was about making it herself.  You really can’t put a price tag on the thrill of accomplishment can you?

The thrill of accomplishment!

The thrill of accomplishment!

Kate checking out her tunnel

Kate checking out her tunnel

The Colors of Fall

Posted November 23rd, 2009 by Julia
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What an amazing Fall day today!  I just love living in Northern California.  It’s another beautiful sunny day.  The sky in all it’s blue perfection.  One would think that our Fall color palette would pale in comparison to the east coast but take a look at a sampling of the colors around our neighborhood today.  Kate and I took a wonderful walk and managed to stop and appreciate all the colors.  I hope you’re able to do the same today.  Happy Fall!

Fall in Fair Oaks

Fall in Fair Oaks

Fall in Fair Oaks

Fall in Fair Oaks

Fall in Fair Oaks

Fall in Fair Oaks

Fall in Fair Oaks

Fall in Fair Oaks

Monet?  No... Mother Nature

Monet? No... Mother Nature

Showing their true colors

Showing their true colors

Fall in Fair Oaks

Fall in Fair Oaks

Fall in Fair Oaks

Fall in Fair Oaks

Fall in Fair Oaks

Fall in Fair Oaks

Fall in Fair Oaks

Fall in Fair Oaks

Fall in Fair Oaks

Fall in Fair Oaks

Bean and Pasta Soup

Posted November 22nd, 2009 by Julia
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Bean and Pasta Soup

Bean and Pasta Soup

One of my favorite soup recipes for the winter is this easy Bean and Pasta Soup.  I got the recipe from a friend many years ago and have modified it throughout the years.  End results… Yum Yum Yum.  Hope you enjoy it as much as we do.

Bean and Pasta Soup

8   cups of free range organic chicken stock (substitute veggie broth or low sodium stock)

2   15 oz cans Cannellini beans (white kidney beans) drained

2   carrots cubed

2   stalks of celery cubed

1   small onion diced

2   large whole bay leaves

1   cup of uncooked Barrilla Plus Farfalle or bowtie pasta

4   Tbls extra virgin olive oil

4   cloves of garlic minced

1   tsp of red pepper flakes

1/2 cup either sundried tomatoes or Just Tomatoes (dried tomato product) roughly chopped

1/2 cup of finely chopped fresh parsley

Shredded Parmesan cheese to taste

In a large pot heat olive oil on med-high and add carrots, celery, onion, red pepper flakes and garlic.  Cook stirring until onions are almost translucent.  Add bay leaves, reduce heat to low and cover until carrots and celery are tender. About 5 to 10 minutes.   Add broth, & beans then bring to a boil.  Next add sundried tomatoes or “Just Tomatoes” product and bowtie pasta.  Cook until pasta is al dente.  Approximately 10 minutes.  Add  chopped parsley to pot, stir and ladle into serving bowls.   Garnish with Parmesan cheese to taste.  Approximately 6 dinner size servings for the hungry.  Enjoy!

Soup before parsley being added

Soup before parsley being added

The Finale

The Finale

*Notes:

I like to use the Barilla Plus Farfalle pasta because it is a multi-grain pasta with protein and ALA omega-3 fatty acids.  However, you can substitute any bowtie pasta for this soup.

I think originally this recipe called for a 1/2 cup of olive oil.  Way too much.  So throughout the years we’ve been gradually reducing it and for us 4 tablespoons seems to be the right amount.

We also really try to add organic ingredients to as many foods that we eat as we can.  So if you can find it why not?  Healthier, and less impact on the planet seems like a good idea to me.  So far I’ve not been able to find organic cannellini beans anywhere so if you know of a source I’d love to learn about it.

I like to use the curly variety of parsley and not the flat leaf.  However, I’ve never tried the flat leaf with it so maybe it’s just as good?  Maybe next time I’ll give that a try.

Bay leaves are far less expensive if you buy them in the Mexican seasonings isle.  Look for “Laurel Entero”.

Our local Raleys supermarket carries mirepoix in the prepared veggie section of the produce isle.  We’ve tried using that in a crunch one time but for some reason it didn’t taste quite as good as when you dice them fresh.  Darn it.

I hope you give this easy soup a try.  It truly is one of the best soups I’ve ever had and it is just perfect for a cold winter evening dinner.  If you do try it let me know what you think.