Thursday, July 2, 2015

Oatmeal Pancakes... on the Road! DIY Pancake Mix and Travel Options.

Oatmeal Pancakes - Vegan and non-vegan options

Welcome to summer!  That peaceful time of eagerly anticipated days of family travel, endless queries of "Are we there yet?" and the search for meals on the road.

While I love to travel, it's often hotel and restaurant food that does me in.  I can only take so many days of oil laden $18 (if we are lucky) pancakes and waffles, dripping made to order omelettes, and bacon on top of everything.

Being a mostly plant-based and dairy-free family (my kids are severely lactose intolerant making this an even more important issue to control) has its difficulties when searching for food to meet our needs.  Then toss in our travel for Liv's competitive dance team and finding not only dairy-free foods, but healthy options to sustain her through 10 hour plus days becomes nearly impossible.

Oatmeal Pancakes - Vegan and non-vegan options
But that's where a little DIY creativity finds us making our hotel neighbors positively envious as they find aromas of fresh oatmeal pancakes drifting through our adjoining doors.

Yes, I've taken to traveling with my own griddle!  A recent Amazon find of the Presto Liddle Griddle solved our breakfast issue with its small (read very packable) 8 1/2 x 10 1/2 inch cooking surface.

Traveling the last two weeks with Liv's team I planned ahead and pre-packaged several bags of our favorite pancake mix along with our new griddle.  With Almond Milk and syrup in the cooler, our plant-based pancakes were ready in minutes, and I'm proud to say I actually had a knock on the door from our hotel neighbors (a team member) saying she could smell them through the door and to please tell her we had extra!

With ingredients including oat flour, oats, chia, ground flax, and banana, these pancakes set Liv and her girlfriends off to a good start before competing, and if desired, the addition of an egg brings even more protein to the meal.  And... all for a small fraction of the price of the hotel restaurant.

Here's were I'm going to change subjects just for a minute and gush about our week!  You know that dream of winning it all?  The dream of scoring the highest score of the entire competition and coming home with an 8 foot trophy?  Well... that happened!

Pure excitement!  National 1st Place winner... Best of the Competition!
These girls attended the Star Systems Nationals in Las Vegas with over a thousand other dancers and finished the season with their large group contemporary number undefeated, and took home the highest score of the week.  Not a bad way to end the season!

For those of you following on our Facebook page, this is the same number you voted on for the Industry Dance Awards and the girls send their sincere thanks.

But back to the pancakes... which I'm thinking may have fueled the beginning of their day so well that I may be partially responsible for the win ;).  Whole grain, laced with cinnamon and banana, then drizzled with pure maple syrup.  Hotel breakfasts just don't get much better.

Oatmeal Pancakes - Vegan and non-vegan options

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Brian Malarkey's Green Acre at Campus Pointe - Restaurant Review

Brian Malarkey's Green Acre at Campus Pointe

Organic ingredients (many actually grown on-site), healthy and flavorful dishes, and an ever-changing seasonal menu... Sounds like lunch to me!  And today it was.

Dining with several members of our fun San Diego Food Blogger group, today we took an inside peek at Brian Malarkey's Green Acre restaurant at the Campus Pointe location.

Brian Malarkey's Green Acre at Campus Pointe

A hidden gem located just minutes from the bustling UTC mall or Scripps Hospital in San Diego (off of Genesee), Green Acre shares residence with several Bio Research, Medical and Corporate Wellness firms and brings a sense of balance to lunch and happy hour (Check Site for hours).

Not a restaurant you will stumble upon unless you are visiting one of the other businesses in the complex, Green Acre is definitely worth seeking out if you are in the area.

With an imaginative and rustic decor, Green Acre boasts dark woods and warm hues in both indoor and outdoor seating.  Catching my eye were the creative spaces outside featuring tables surrounded by wood which while totally open, lent a sense of privacy to the diners.

Containing several meeting and banquet rooms, Green Acre makes your event more than just business with over 20k square feet of combined meeting and event spaces, a private dining room, chef's table, an event lawn and billiards room. (Personally I wanted to draw all over the super cool glass white board wall in the upstairs meeting room!).

Brian Malarkey's Green Acre at Campus Pointe

But for everyday diners Green Acre offers a number of seating spaces in addition to a "general store" with several to-go options.  I've read the Happy Hours are bustling and fun, and our lunch proved fun and tasty as well.

With an on-site garden, the restaurant uses as many organic and local produce options as possible and the flatbreads, salads and sandwiches all boasted beautiful greens and vegetables along with a few edible flower petals thrown in for color.

Brian Malarkey's Green Acre at Campus Pointe

Starting with meal of the Root Fries (crispy and seasoned irresistibly with salt, manchego and a touch of aleppo pepper), the platter also included little jars of pickled peppers, pineapple and beets.  In my opinion... worth a visit just for these fries!

Working together our group of bloggers tackled the menu to order different dishes to get a taste of as much as possible, and started with an array of flatbreads.

Brian Malarkey's Green Acre at Campus Pointe
La Mesa Flat Bread - made gluten-free
Of the Mushroom (Garlic, Cremini, Burrata, Truffle Oil), Fig (Shaft's Bleu, Arugula, Prosciutto), and La Mesa (BBQ Chicken, Red Onion, Gruyere), my hat tips to the Fig.  Simply bursting with sweetness and contrasting with the cheese and arugula, this will be my meal of choice on my next visit.  Note that all flat breads may be made gluten-free, and we made our BBQ Chicken flat bread as such and it received thumbs up all around.

Brian Malarkey's Green Acre at Campus Pointe

Lunch for me included the Goddess Salad filled with fresh organic greens and site-grown organic herbs and pea shoots along with plump juicy cherry tomatoes, capers and chevre.  While I ordered mine with a side of quinoa as my protein, more mainstream proteins include shrimp, steak, tuna and chicken.

Brian Malarkey's Green Acre at Campus Pointe
Crispy Kale Chips
We also tried the Corn Cob (Avocado, chicken, bleu, bacon and egg) and the Nice! (Olive, farm egg, albacore, beans, tomatoes, taters), which I'm told is one of the most popular items on the menu.

More menu choices include various Paninis, Burgers (including a vegetarian Black Bean Burger), Soups, Chili and multiple sides.  A favorite at the table was the Kale Chips... nice and crispy.

So next time you're in the area shopping at UTC, visiting the hospital, attending UCSD, or for whatever reason brings you, take a break at Green Acre.  Follow Campus Pointe to the end of the road and bear left (look for Green Acre sign), or if you are in the front of the Eli Lilly building, enter and walk through to the back where you will find Green Acre.

Thanks to Green Acre for hosting our lunch today... I had not been familiar with the restaurant before this visit and I'm so happy to have a place away from the bustle on our next UTC mall visit.  See you soon!

Brian Malarkey's Green Acre at Campus Pointe

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Thomas Keller's Chocolate Chip Cookies... #BloggerCLUE

Thomas Keller's Chocolate Chip Cookies

When someone mentions the word "picnic", what food comes to mind?  What's your go-to dish or treat?  But for that matter... do you actually go on picnics?

Defining the word, pictures of tree shaded grass covered with checkered cloths topped with lovely wicker baskets flash across my mind.  Opening the basket I see sandwiches, apples, pesto pasta salad, sparkling waters, and of course cookies.

However, I've never actually experienced this vision.  And frankly, I don't know that I've ever actually been on a real "picnic" per se.  Now, I have been to the park when the kids were little, and we sat on a towel in the sand and had goldfish, juice boxes and of course those cookies.  I've been to dance competitions where we sit in crowded dressing rooms and try to fuel the girls with healthy options between dance number.  And of course, those cookies are there to provide a quick burst of energy.  And I've been to Jazz in the Park.  This one had that grassy field, but we went more of a wine and appetizer direction with of course... the cookies.

Hence, this month's Blogger Clue theme of "Picnic" obviously needs to be cookies.  And the amazing Azmina, of Lawyer Loves Lunch, brought a number of options.

Hailing from my old stomping grounds, the Bay Area (the San Francisco Bay, that is), Azmina is a true gem.  Not only does she manage a lawyer job in addition to raising a family (she has the most adorable wee-ones, a boy and a girl) and writing a food blog, but she does it all with love and compassion, and her humor has us laughing with her along the way.

Seriously, finding a recipe on her blog took me days simply because I kept getting caught up in stories and identifying with most everything she said (Mom Glasses.... LOL!).

I have to admit I've actually made three of her recipes in the past few weeks.  The Coffeehouse Blueberry Lemon Bars made use of some of the fresh, organic berries we found last week and proved to be equally as good for dinner as they did for breakfast or lunch.  However my friend Christiane, The Mom Chef from Taking on Magazines, made these last month (read about Azmina's stint as a Master Chef contestant on that post) and I figured I'd better move on.

Recipe to follow for these guys...  Let just say that when you turn you back only to find one left when you return,  you know you have a hit on your hands.
The Crispy Tandoori Smashed Potatoes singlehandedly drew Liv and my husband from their activities straight to the kitchen as the scent of garlic wafted through our house.  We've actually had this recipe twice in the last week, once Azmina's Tandoori version and once simply brushed with butter and garlic.  Let me just put it this way... when getting interrupted from a photo shoot and return to find only one smashed potato left (I swear I was only gone for 15 minutes!) one knows we have a hit.

Thomas Keller's Chocolate Chip Cookies
And lastly, those cookies.  The epitome of picnic food, Thomas Keller's Chocolate Chip Cookies proved to be another keeper chocolate chip recipe to add to my repertoire.

Slightly crispy on the bottom, but soft on the top, they also passed Liv's ever so stringent "cookie dough test" with flying colors.  Personally, I love the chopped chocolates in place of chips as we get big chunks of gooey chocolate in every bite.

And now for the picnic.  With California's drought pushing our water limits to the max, green grass is sometimes hard to find (I hear "brown is the new green"...).  And with kids schedules taking me all over the state (the time eases up a bit as they get older Azmina, but they do keep stretching you - just in new directions!) in the next few days, the pure "time" requirement for a picnic is not to be found.

But... if you are reading this on posting day you will find me in the car heading for Santa Barbara to bring my baby home from his first year in college.  My heart swells just knowing my whole family will be under the same roof by bedtime tonight, and my boy will be all mine again if only for a few weeks.

And our drive simply calls for cookies!  Thanks Azmina for providing the perfect welcome home recipe for our picnic in the car.  And perhaps we'll spot some green grass along the way...

Thomas Keller's Chocolate Chip Cookies

Thomas Keller's Chocolate Chip Cookies
Tender yet slightly crispy on the bottom, these cookies are the perfect picnic fare.  Note Liv also gave them glowing remarks in the cookie dough category!

Usually I post a recipe in full when I write about it... but I made these cookies exactly as written on Azmina's blog.  And while the cookies are one you need in your repertoire, it's her story that really touched my heart and let me see into hers.  Head on over to Lawer Loves Lunch and take just a moment to restore your faith in humanity.  And then have a cookie.

Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe  ⬅ (Click for recipe!)


Now let's see what everyone else brought to the picnic!! 

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Marinated Grilled Mini Sweet Peppers #oxogreensaver


Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers, and then he put them in the fridge and somehow they got pushed to the back behind the eggs and milk and then he forgot about them until one day he found them... all soft and shriveled.  Ever happened to you?  I hate to admit it, but I find more produce in my fridge that I had planned to use and then forgot about than I care to say.  Such a waste.

As a mostly plant based family, my fridge is filled to the brim with fresh veggies and fruits, and as I mentioned earlier, occasionally my eyes get the better of me at a local farmer's markets and I arrive home with not one, but 4 gorgeous bunches of various colored lettuces.

With all good intentions I toss together a salad, and then another the next day.  The third day may find me blending some of the tender leaves into juice, but the fourth day has met tired of lettuce.  So I let it sit a day or two, and by the time I'm back to it the beautiful leaves have begun to wilt, or perhaps have even become slimy and spoiled.

Enter the Greensaver.  I love a good science experiment, and when OXO sent a Greensaver with Activated Carbon System in combination with some of my favorite multicolored Mini Sweet Peppers from Melissa's Produce I placed most of the peppers directly into the Greensaver leaving a handful in the bag they arrived in.  And I tried to forget about them.

But for once I couldn't forget about my gorgeous perfect produce and checked them almost daily.  Peppers, though, have a longer shelf life than many greens, and I didn't really see much of a difference in the first week in the fridge.

But then I did forget about them.  Really... they got pushed to the back, and it wasn't until I realized my Oxo deadline was fast approaching that we dug back into the fridge half expecting to find a science experiment gone too far.

Pulling the peppers from the bag I found somewhat soft and shriveled fruits.  Still edible, but no where near their prime.  However, popping the top of the Greensaver we contrarily pulled out gorgeous, photo-worthy (photos show each and every blemish) crisp fruits!

Can you guess which pepper had a stay in the Oxo Greensaver??

That's when I turned tail and headed to the store for more Greensavers.  Yes, I'm now the proud owner of 4 Greensavers and tomorrow morning they will all be filled as I arrive home with that extra produce I just won't be able to pass up at the local market.

Storing my veggies and fruits in the bags I brought them home in has been something I've always done.  Occasionally I place a paper towel in the bag, but more often than not I don't.  But after some research, I've come to find that storing produce this way may actually cause it to go bad faster, ergo that slimy lettuce when I reach for it to make my salad after just a few days in the fridge.

The three main reasons produce rots and spoils are:
  • Ethlyene Gas - Fruits and vegetables give off Ethlyne Gas.  Exposing produce to the gas speeds up the ripening process (ever put an apple with bananas to ripen them faster?) and can cause over ripening which can then lead to spoilage.
  • Improper Airflow - When produce rests up against the walls of a bag or container, moisture can build up and cause rotting.
  • Uncontrolled Humidity - Fruits and vegetables require a perfect balance of humidity to remain in peak condition and prevent softness or wilting.  To make things harder, different varieties of produce have different humidity requirements.
Thankfully, the OXO Greensaver can help solve these issues!

First the Ethylene Gas.  The Greensaver uses a plant based (coconut husk - making them safe and non-toxic) carbon filter to absorb the gas which in turn slows down the ripening process and slows spoilage giving you more time with that gorgeous lettuce.

Airflow.  The Greensaver uses an elevated basket lifting the produce up and away from the bottom and sides of the container and allowing air to "flow" around the produce.  And as a bonus, the basket simply lifts out of the box and can be used as a colander.

Humidity.  A vent on top of each Produce Keeper slides open and closed to maintain optimum humidity levels for different kinds of produce keeping them crisp and fresh.

According to my experiment (we actually followed the scientific method!), this OXO Greensaver works.  And not only does it work to keep the produce crisp and fresh longer, it organizes your fridge!  I love the clear boxes allowing me to throw away those opaque grocery store bags where you can't really see what's in them and instead to see directly into each bin and know exactly you have on hand.

My thanks to OXO and Melissa's Produce for sending us a Greensaver and those crisp, sweet mini peppers.  I'm sold on the Greensaver.  And my produce?  We're enjoying more time together!

Monday, May 25, 2015

It's 4:00 Somewhere, and I'm Dreaming of Teatime in Paris...

Teatime in Paris, Diamants

It's 4:00 somewhere, isn't it??  Whatever the local time it's always the perfect time for tea, at least in my world.  So, as this year's travel plans are rounding out to be more of a "San Diego Staycation", I'm bringing a little bit of Paris to me with Jill Colonna's new book, Teatime in Paris!: A Walk Through Easy French Patisserie Recipes .

Jill and I go back a long way.  Actually, she and I were BFFs (Best Friends Forever) even before we first became truly acquainted.

Photo Credit:  Lili Auten
You see, I discovered Jill's first book, Mad About Macarons!: Make Macarons Like the French, when when researching the art of macaron making and the book became my constant companion during mom driving duties.

Reading the book from cover to cover in the school pickup line, at the dentist, waiting at dance class, etc, and then perusing her blog and actually watching her on tv (a Scottish morning show - The Hour), Jill and I spent hours and hours together, and I'm positively certain she would have felt the same kinship I did if she had only known I existed! 

Since then we've followed each other through our blogs along with occasional emails and we've watched as our similarly aged girls have grown into lovely young women.  I've virtually enjoyed spectacular days in Paris through Jill's lovely photos (love her instagram!), and I've envied her constant supply of macarons with flavor combos I can only dream of.  Her sense of humor and pure love of life make her simply the best of companions (My dad loves her too!).

Carlsbad Dance Centre Senior Dancers enjoying Teatime in Paris!
But even more excitingly, Jill has joined me once again and spent the last few weeks traveling around Southern California with the launch of her new book, Teatime in Paris!  While she may not be innately aware, her Strawberry Eclairs (pg. 84) tempted the dancers and dance moms at an LA Dance Competition, she's spent hours contemplating Choux Puff technique while lounging on local beaches, and she had Liv's orthodontist captivated with her Fast Fig, Almond and Lavender Tarts.

French Macaron
PC:  Alexis Mertz
However, our most fun excursion by far has to be the visit to Liv's Honors Algebra Class for a Career Day Presentation.  Who knew food blogging would garner such attention?  But with Jill's book in hand, how could it not?

Explaining that food blogging perks include reviewing cookbooks like Teatime in Paris, the kids took the task to heart.  With a plateful of Jill's Lemon and Grapefruit Macarons (yes... I bribed them so I would be the most popular presenter...) and a jar of glistening Diamants (Diamond Biscuits p. 40), these mathletes brought out their creative side as we discussed recipes from the book and food photography, and then set them off to photograph the treats on their own.

French Macaron
Photo Credit:  Meghan Brennan
I had entered the class somewhat confident in my food photography skills - I've had photos published in magazines, splashed on websites and even sold as prints and on cards.  But after seeing the creativity these kids brought for this review, my confidence has been knocked down a peg or two, but I am newly inspired to try different angles and see things in a fresh way.

French Macaron
Photo Credit:  Alexis Mertz
And try new things we did.  Teatime in Paris brings the Pâtisserie to your kitchen, and no, you don't need to be a master chef to taste these treats in your own home.  Thanks to Jill and her easy to follow directions, you can have fresh, crisp Almond Tuiles (pg. 46) with your tea in just over an hour - and with ingredients you probably already have in your own pantry.

Teatime in Paris guides you step-by-step through recipes from simple teacakes through eclairs, cream puffs and the delectable French Macaron.  All are within your reach with Teatime in Paris recipes. 

French Macaron
Photo Credit: Hannah Vandenkolk
Planning a trip to Paris yourself??  Jill also fills you in on some of her favorite, tried and true teatime and Pâtisserie locations in the city along with history and lore of the treats you will find there.

So what are you waiting for?  It's teatime somewhere...  what will be your Teatime in Paris treat of choice?

Teatime in Paris, Diamants
Photo Credit:  Emmy Kim

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Sparkling Strawberry Champagne Cocktail

Strawberry Champagne Cocktail

Sometimes even the best laid plans go awry, don't they?  Take Mother's Day for instance.  I had plans of being unabashedly spoiled by my family.  Think pancakes prepared for me (not by me), someone else doing the dishes, a nice long nap and then dinner with my own mom.  Sigh... all the makings of a "perfect" leisurely day, yes?

Alas, the fantasy somehow doesn't always quite unfold as planned, and now I find myself questioning, "What really is prefect, anyway?".

Liv adding in a last minute dance competition on Mother's Day found me up at 4:50AM making pancakes to fuel her for the morning.  Rushing, we just made our 5:15 departure with hair and makeup done, costumes in hand, and lunch prepared and packed for the day.  Luckily our travel time to San Diego took a mere 26 minutes getting us to UCSD early, however I had left the kitchen strewn with the remnants of pancake and lunch prep along a list waiting for me to finish before my parents arrived later that evening for dinner.  

My Liv... :)
Competition days are exciting and bring me complete joy as I watch my confident, beautiful girl up there on that stage, however, after some 6 hours surrounded by blaring music and hundreds of teenage dancers one's head can begin to ache a bit.

Arriving home by 2PM and with only 2 1/2 hours to get dinner on the table I set to cleaning the kitchen from the morning mess and I'll admit to feeling a bit miffed that no one stepped up to help.   It was Mother's Day after all, wasn't it?

Hours later with a tidy kitchen, freshly made garlic and sundried tomato bread (my mom's favorite - recipe coming soon!), dinner prepared and dessert baked, Mom and Dad arrived and I shared a beer with my dad completely forgetting to prepare the Strawberry Champagne Cocktail I had planned.

After a lovely dinner, my husband and I cleaned up the kitchen again and I longed for a bath and bed when my son called in needed help with an issue at college.  Just finishing the call, Liv came down needing help with her homework and my husband commented that his uniform shirts weren't ready for him to head to work in the morning.  Sigh.

Feeling tired, overlooked, and even a little unappreciated, I finally found that bath.  Easing my tired back my phone beeped as my son texted a thanks for helping him along with "Looking forward to seeing you in a few weeks.  I have a few friends I hope you'll be able to meet."  Wow... he really wants me to meet his friends?  My heart lifted.

Popping in later to tell Liv goodnight she said, "Come here..." and enveloping me in a huge hug it was the "Mom... I'm so lucky God gave me to you.  You're the best mom ever.  I don't know what I'd do without you!" that completely melted my heart.

Heading to bed my husband also embraced me whispering, "You were amazing today... thanks for holding our family together."

It was then that I reflected that yes... my day had indeed been perfect after all.  I spent Mother's Day doing exactly what I love.  Being a mom.  And I wouldn't change a thing.

And so the spoiling was left for today when Stacy of Food Lust People Love completely spoiled me with her version of this fabulous Strawberry Champagne Cocktail.  May's Blogger Clue Series (#BloggerClue) prompt of "Berries" transported me to the other side of the world where I perused Stacy's incredible recipes and learned a bit about her life in Dubai.  With her lovely smile and kind heart, Stacy references her many travels and warms my heart with her love of her girls, husband and adorable boxer, Beso.

Choosing from a  plethora of luscious berry recipes including Blueberry Muffins, raspberry treats and even more strawberry muffins and breads,  this Strawberry Champagne Cocktail had been meant for Mother's Day, but ended up being the perfect complement to a spontaneous Day After Mother's Day brunch with my husband as we laughed and completed the photo shoot together.

So here's to Stacy, a mom like me who gets by day to day and loves her job as much as I do.  Cheers my friend!  Thanks for spoiling me today.

And now won't you join me as we discover what the rest of our lovely Blogger Clue Society brings to the table?

Strawberry Champagne Cocktail

Monday, May 4, 2015

Blueberry Banana Almond Smoothie


Blueberry and banana... simply one of life's perfect combos, and one we've been blending to morning smoothies for years.  Be it an addition to a plethora of fruits, creamy with yogurt or milk of some sort, or just blended together for a creamy frozen treat, we never tire of the pair.

But today we added almond, and oh my heavens, I have a new favorite.  Already creamy with almond milk, I attempted to boost Liv's protein even more with a scoop of almond butter, and the addition elevated the smoothie to pure decadence.

Almost more dessert tasting than healthy morning starter, Liv's comment of, "Mom... Yes. You totally win!" as she sent a snapchat to her friends had my heart swelling.

While we used almond milk for our version, any milk will do, and I can only imagine a carton of creamy vanilla yogurt would be a delightful addition.  Blueberries, banana and almond butter... who knew?

Blueberry Banana Almond Smoothie
Creamy and filled with blueberry banana goodness, a scoop of almond butter gives this a milkshake taste.
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1 cup almond milk (we use unsweetened Silk original)
1 cup organic blueberries
1/2 to 3/4 cup frozen banana (about 1 medium)
1-2 Tbs almond butter
1 Tbs maple syrup (optional)
handful ice

Place all ingredients into a blender and blend until creamy.  If the mix is too thick add additional milk or a little water.

Garnish with a blueberry or two and enjoy! 
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