Monday, April 14, 2014

Carlsbad, CA... our Spring Break Staycation!

Flower Fields at Carlsbad Ranch, ranunculus
Carlsbad Flower Fields
Ahhh... Spring Break!!  Magical words to over-worked students and parents alike.  After months of homework, dance rehearsals, trips to Orlando for Dance Team Nationals (they came in 2nd!) in addition to a Broadcasting Competition (they got 3rd!!), college preparations for the boy child (He'll be attending UCSB in the fall!) and A/P testing, I was exhausted simply doing the driving.

Our Spring Break last week flew by, but we enjoyed every minute of our Staycation here in Carlsbad, CA.  From the brilliance of the Carlsbad Flower Fields to the shores of our sunny beaches, we're rested and ready to get back to work.  Here we bring a photo essay highlighting some of our Carlsbad Staycation Spring Break!

White Ranunculus, Carlsbad Flower Fields

The Carlsbad Flower Fields bloomed brilliantly and I took full advantage of the opportunity on a morning date with my camera.  Carlsbad, California provides its own color show at the Flower Fields at Carlsbad Ranch devoting 50 acres to the cultivation of the Tecolote® Giant Ranunculus.  Springtime brings ribbons of spectacular colors stretching behind the Carlsbad Outlet Mall just off of I-5.

From mid-March through early May the beautiful Ranunculus transform the otherwise dry coastal hills into fields of coordinated color.  A working farm, the flowers themselves are harvested for market, while the plants work to produce additional bulbs which will also be harvested and some replanted.  See our prior Flower Field Post for more detailed information on the fields (and an Oatmeal Strawberry Bar recipe!).

Carlsbad Flower Fields
White Ranunculus, Carlsbad Flower Fields

Pink Ranunculus, Carlsbad Flower Fields

Yellow Ranunculus, Carlsbad Flower Fields

Yellow Ranunculus and farm workers, Carlsbad Flower Fields

Ranunculus and farm workers, Carlsbad Flower Fields
A working farm, the ranunculus are picked and sent to market.

tractor ride at Carlsbad Flower Fields
Old fashioned tractor rides are available around the fields.  The friendly drivers always bring big smiles and waves!

Areas of the fields are set aside for family photos

Pink Ranunculus, Carlsbad Flower Fields

Carlsbad Beaches, Birds and a Sunset
Carlsbad Beach - warm waters
Golden Hour just past Warm Waters

Carlsbad Beach - warm waters
Sunset by the jetty...

Carlsbad Dance Girls... beach day photo shoot!

We love spring break!
Carlsbad Beach - warm waters

And now... back to work.  Hope your Spring Break brought rest and relaxation too!

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

California Greek Salad

California Greek Salad

Crystal clear waters giving way to white sandy beaches, vibrant colors filling my lens and our Captain and Master Chef, Iakis, grilling on the back of his 20 metre boat...  Such are the memories I took with me from our day on the Nautilus as we cruised the shores of Corfu, Greece (Click here for a recap of our day in Corfu).

With traditional Greek treats including Saganaki, stuffed baby squid, homemade wine and a simple Greek Salad I've never forgotten, the food of Greece has stuck with me years later.  While the ambiance may have enhanced our day, Iakis put together a feast I can never hope to recreate in my own kitchen.

Corfu Greece Nautilus Daily Cruise
Corfu, Greece - 2012
However, the simple Greek Salad he served has become a favorite and finds its way to my table often.  Adding avocado for a California twist, this salad goes together in mere minutes and brings bright, fresh flavors to your table.

I've not thought to post it in the past as it's something I just toss together, but over the last few weeks I've had friends and my mom request a formal recipe for this fabulous Greek creation.  Fresh ingredients can make or break the salad, but beyond that you can adjust the ingredient measurements to suit your taste.  Love cucumber?  Add a little extra.  Not an onion fan?  Leave it out all together!

As we enter this spring season our markets are beginning to bring fresh produce and this salad just might become a regular in your kitchen too.

California Greek Salad

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Creamy Pasta Bake

Twenty two years ago my husband, then boyfriend, made his favorite meal for me ... Baked Ziti.  Little did I know it was the only meal he knew how to make, but it was also one he had grown up with and still craves to this day.  Filled with pasta, tomato sauce and a good amount of creamy ricotta, this dish also became a favorite of our children, until they became lactose intolerant.  For years we've simply skipped this favorite dish in favor of alternative dairy-free pasta meals, but they alway have a little yearning for this old favorite.

A simple mention from my son last week of "I wish we could have that ziti" had me turning to the internet to see what I could do.  With alternatives including tofu, dairy-free milks, and brewer's yeast, I didn't see anything that I thought would do for our family until I spotted a recipe using cashews.

Cashews?  Could it work?  In a word... yes!  Is it exactly the same as the old ricotta version? No.  But did anyone care?  Again, no.

With one of those new high-powered blenders (my beloved Blendtec) on my counter, a simple spin in the Twister Jar had a cupful of cashews turning to a creamy cashew butter in no time.

With my sauce simmering along with the vegetables of the evening (this evening featured asparagus and mushrooms) I removed the pan from the heat and added a few Tablespoons of the creamy cashew butter.  In no time I had a sauce reminiscent of our creamy ricotta version and into the oven it went.

Serving up the dish to the family the first comment from my son held frustration as he asked for his lactose pills along with a reminder that "Mom... you know I can't have this...".

"Yep...", I responded, "you can have this.  It's dairy-free."

Quizzical looks fluttered through their eyes and hesitant forks speared the pasta as they asked "What did you do??".

Shortly thereafter the conversation switched to the usual what we did today topics and in mere minutes I had 4 clean plates.  No one commented through the meal what they thought of the dish, but the "Hey mom... don't lose that recipe!" tossed over my son's shoulder as he left to finish homework warmed my heart and confirmed what I  had already thought.  We have a winner.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Chocolate Avocado Mousse #dairyfree

Ahhh... Chocolate Mousse.  Creamy and chocolaty with a luscious, silky mouth feel, what could be better??  Well, if dairy doesn't work for you, just about anything other than this cream-filled concoction.

Chocolate Mousse, for me, goes back some 40+ years as I spent evenings at Dad's restaurant, The Windjammer, in Tiburon, CA.  With a requirement to finish either my steak or shrimp (I spoiled was I?) along with my vegetables, Marcel, one of Dad's best waiters, would then treat me to a special Chocolate Mousse.  Creamy and decadent, I hadn't a clue the amount of calories in that heavenly concoction, and then it didn't matter.

Entering my 20's I learned to make the dessert myself with a friend's "old family recipe" from a grandmother in Germany.  I don't know who  first thought to put those 4 incredible ingredients of chocolate, cream, sugar and eggs together resulting in the silky, luscious mousse has my ultimate thanks. 

However, moving into my 40's the amount of cream-filled desserts in my diet has dwindled in favor of moderation and "waist management".  Add to that the fact that my kids don't digest dairy, and mousse hasn't found its way to our menu plan for over 10 years.  

Enter my beloved avocado.  Rich and creamy in its own right, did you know you can substitute avocado for butter in your baking?  Not only that, but we used a combo of avocado and avocado oil as a substitute for heavy cream in this fabulous mousse.  Bringing a healthy dose of vitamins and minerals, avocados in moderation can also work to help reduce cholesterol and fight against heart disease with their heart-healthy monounsaturated fats.

Lusciously creamy like its full cream cousin, no one will know your healthy secret when you serve this decadent Mousse for dessert.  Join me??

Friday, March 21, 2014

Quinoa Salad with Kale and Chickpeas

Once again I'm totally late to a food trend... this time it's kale.  For years I've read the incredible health benefits of this high fiber, iron-rich, vitamin k and antioxidant filled leafy green, but to be honest, I've always been a little scared of it.  Kale just seemed sort of tough, and it was... well... it was really, really green.  Not that there's anything wrong with that, but I just didn't find it appealing.

Knowing the health benefits though, I began adding kale in very small doses to our smoothies and blended juices, and no one even knew it was there.  Then Liv came home from dance one night begging to try Kale Chips after her highly respected choreographer, Miss Abbie, sang the praises of its crunchy goodness.  We tried it, and low and behold when drizzled with a little truffle oil, roasted kale is awesome!!  But in a salad?  I  just couldn't get over the toughness.

However, a lack of spinach earlier this week had me turning to that bag of Tuscan Kale just waiting to be used.  Chopping it up really, really small, the kale found it's way into one of a lunch-time regular, my beloved quinoa and chickpeas.  Adding a squeeze of lemon and a splash of avocado oil to the mix I've found a new love.

So here I am discovering that kale really isn't all that bad just when many food blogs and websites are calling an end to the kale trend.  What do you think... is kale here to stay??

Friday, March 14, 2014

Natural Products Expo West, 2014 - Top 10 Finds and a few navigational tips

Heading out by myself early on a Friday morning I made my way north to the Anaheim Convention Center... home to the 2014 Natural Products Expo West.  Little did I know I would be joining some 67,000 of my new closest friends, but this record-breaking event shows the move toward natural and healthy products is not a fad.

With over 2,600 exhibiting companies, the Expo is, needless to say, a bit overwhelming.  Luckily I had a bit of research under my belt, and after bumping into Erika, of In Erika's Kitchen, I had a little guidance and a loosely laid plan of action.

Know that if you are not one of the very early birds, you will not be able to park at the Convention Center, but parking is easily found (along with free and plentiful shuttles) at the Angel's Stadium, just a few miles from the Expo event.  Attending on a Press Pass, my registration needed to be completed at the Convention Center itself, but other registrants have the ability to get their tickets at the Angel's Parking lot... a line that moved fairly slowly due to only one person working the desk, but a line that was shorter than the mobs we met at the actual event.  I can't advise which moved faster, but both were long.

Some people actually brought wagons!
Arriving at the Press Booth on level 3, I was thankfully met with a far shorter line and some 20 minutes later I had my pass and a "small gift" (so they described it) of a giant canvas bag filled with full sized goodies featured at the event.  While I loved most of the products in the bag, know that the bag was heavy, and beginning my day with a giant bag over my shoulder meant for aching shoulder hours later.  Think twice before picking up your press bag first thing in the morning, but also know that they tend to run out around mid-day.

With my registration completed I began my exploration on the third level, one which I had been told was the newer and smaller companies attending the Expo.  Some people had recommended skipping this level all together, however I actually found this level to be the most exciting.

Small booths filled with eager faces brought actual contact from the company owners themselves, and the excitement and hope they shared about their products was positively contagious.  I spent over an hour perusing this level, chatting along the way and came away with some of my favorite Expo 2014 products, products I hope make it big in the world.

Making my way to the ground level, giant booths with big names and mobs of people intermixed with smaller booths and more mobs of people.  Some super friendly, some too busy to even answer a question.  But many products like Mama Chia, Bob's Redmill, Annie's, Navitas Naturals, and Odwalla brought familiar names and exhibits of products new and old.  Note the lower level featured even more food and health care products.

A few tips I will remember for next time:
  • Bring a few pens and a small notebook.  With so much going on sometimes the information thrown at you can be overwhelming.  I took notes on flyers and more in a notebook and also in the notes section on my phone.  Helped so much when I came home and tried to sort everything out.
  • Bring business cards, I made numerous connections at the Expo.
  • Read the exhibitor lists before you arrive and make a list of those you don't want to miss.
  • Grab a map of the venue.
  • Wear comfortable walking shoes!
  • Give yourself lots of time to meander and explore
  • Don't grab free things just because they are free... I saw a lady lugging a bag of cat litter then I heard her mention, "I got this for free... and I don't even have a cat!".  Why??
  • Talk!  Get in there and talk to the vendors.  I met so many wonderful people with stories I enjoyed and the experience brought faces to the company names.
Liv Life Top 10 Finds at the 2014 Expo West

Bob's Red Mill
Whole Grains
Ok... this may not be an actual "new" find as I'm already a big Bob's Red Mill fan, but I met Bob!!  Not only did I meet him, but he gave me a personally addressed and signed book and took a photo with me.  I'm thinking we are pretty good friends now.  He even tweeted me to say he was so glad I came by.  Yep, I'm thinking BFF's...

Clean, Lean and Sexy
 A tasty snack food line that is not only delicious but isn't loaded with sugar or artificial and unnecessary ingredients
 Passing this booth one couldn't help but stop.  First, the name, Clean Lean and Sexy, alone caught my eye, then the smiles and personalities of the owner Suzie Carpenter and PR rep Nancy had me chatting in no time.  Passionate about her products, Suzie's products are made with real ingredients and will never contain gluten, soy, corn or dairy.  As the mom of a daughter with Celiac, she learned quickly how to read an ingredient label and went on to create her own snack products.

"My secret is I'm obsessed. Not only with good food, but with what's in it. When my daughter was diagnosed with Celiac's disease, I had no choice but to become an expert label reader.  My Clean, Lean and Sexy snacks are always Gluten Free and made with simple, clean ingredients. That is my pledge to you!"

Featuring an addictive Air Popped Pop Corn, Gluten Free Pretzels, and two whole food natural energy bars (I'm partial to the Coconut Cashew version!), Suzie's foods can be ordered online.

 "Olomomo® (pronounced “o-lo-MO-mo”) means "Momo's world" and refers to the nutty adventures of "Momo" the monkey.  Olomomo aspires to bring innovation to the nut industry with the most delicious and unusual nuts in the world. Our roasted nuts are a micro-batch, premium, high-energy, amino acid and protein-rich snack designed to taste great with coffee, tea, beer and wine.  They're a GREAT premium mouth-watering snack for anyone on the go - athletes, travelers, busy moms and kids. Olomomo Nuts are coming soon to a coffee shop, smoothie shop, grocery store, outdoor sporting goods store near you."

Also catching my eye with the personalities behind the tables, Olomomo Nuts has recently been named one of the Top 10 Natural Brands to Watch in 2014 by New Hope Natural Media.  Known for premium flavor profiles and product innovation in the nut and snack industry, I was lucky enough to taste their new product, the Vim Vinegar and Sea Salt Almonds.  Blending  exotic Japanese umeboshi plum vinegar with just a hint of sea salt, I could have stood around chatting and snacking on their nuts all day.

With products like   Mango Chipotle Zinger Almonds and Righteous Cinnamon Cayenne Almonds packaged in snack sized bags, this products is indeed something to go nuts for!

Good Belly
GoodBelly’s delicious organic drinks deliver a powerful daily dose of live and active probiotic cultures of Lactobacillus plantarum299v, a well-studied probiotic strain formulated for daily digestive health.* Refreshingly dairy-free, soy-free and vegan. Simply good to the core.

Super excited about this one.  Probiotic Juice Drinks... and always dairy-free.  I tasted their juice drinks and also a shot, and I have no doubt that Good Belly will earn a regular spot in our fridge.  I have visions of smoothies and blended juices using these products in my future.  Stay tuned!

  • Always dairy-free, soy-free and vegan.
  • Unlike many ‘live and active cultures’ found on the market, GoodBelly’s probiotic strain survives the stomach’s acidic environment in order to reach the rest of the intestinal tract.
  • While LP299V® is widely available in Europe, GoodBelly is the only beverage in the United States that offers this probiotic strain.
  • And most importantly, GoodBelly promotes healthy digestion.*
 The Ultimate scoop for uses in dietary food supplements, culinary, baby formula, and products containing powders, liquids and more.  Just Scoop, snap, flip and pour!

Just totally cool... who doesn't need one of these little gadgets?   My husband travels and when attempting to pour a serving of protein powder into a water bottle it always makes a mess.  This little Scoopie solves the problem.

We understand that to gym goers and competitors in the fitness industry, it's essential that they have simplicity within their everyday routine and contest prep. We saw the difficulty in taking a pre-workout/protein supplement on the go because the scoop that typically is provided in the supplement tub was much larger than the circumference of that of a normal water bottles opening/spout creating a mess. - See more at:
The ULTIMATE scoop for uses in dietary food supplements, culinary, baby formula, & products containing powders, liquids, & MORE! Just scoop, snap, flip & pour! - See more at:
"We understand that to gym goers and competitors in the fitness industry, it's essential that they have simplicity within their everyday routine and contest prep. We saw the difficulty in taking a pre-workout/protein supplement on the go because the scoop that typically is provided in the supplement tub was much larger than the circumference of that of a normal water bottles opening/spout creating a mess."

Perfect Bar
 "Around here we do things a little differently. Perfect Foods Bars are delicious, great tasting bars that DON'T have any added chemical preservatives. We start with a delicious, creamy blend of freshly ground peanut butter and almond butter, then add organic honey and nutrient dense whole foods and whole food protein. They taste so good, you won't believe they're so good for you."

Perfect Peanut Butter, Perfect Almond Butter, Perfect Almond Coconut... oh my, yes!   I'm pretty picky when it comes to bars, but these flavorful beauties had me hooked with the first taste.  I love that the ingredients are all recognizable as "real" food, and I love that there is no refined sugar.  

Family owned and operated, Perfect Bars are names as one of the 10 Best Recovery Bars by Runner's Magazine.  Found at Whole Foods, Spouts, Jimbos and numerous other stores here in Southern California, these bars have become a regular in our house already.  The Perfect Foods Bar - Peanut Butter. THE ORIGINAL, Gluten Free High Protein Bar can also be found on Amazon or ordered on line at

 Matt's Munchies

 "A banker by profession, Robert took over the kitchen and six months later, voila! Chef Robert emerged with amazingly tasty and nutritious premium fruit snacks. Robert named the new product Matt’s Munchies after his son, Matthew, who helped develop the unique flavors. With intentions as pure as their products Chef, Matt and Sous Chef Linda (momz) seek to brighten the snacking landscape together with their exciting munchies!"

Fruit snacks have always been a favorite with the kids in our house, however these snacks caught my taste buds by surprise.  The Island Mango sample sent me on a momentary trip to the tropics.  Filled with mango and a touch of tropical coconut, these fruit snacks are anything but ordinary.  

Family owned, this company moved from New York to California in 2009.  Found in some Whole Foods as well as Mother's Markets, I'm hoping to find these munchies closer to me soon! 


Lavilin Underarm and Foot Deodorants have evolved into effective alternatives to aluminum-based deodorants. Now, because our consumers have asked, Lavilin has developed a full line of deodorants, body lotions, and foot creams based on the original concept of targeting the root causes to solve problems, not just mask them! All the company's products have been developed with an awareness of the three elements – energy, harmony and proper cell development – required to achieve healthy, vital, and fresh skin.  All Lavilin products utilize plant extracts and oils to help address odor, dryness, and cracked skin – never containing aluminum or alcohol!

We've been looking for an aluminum-free deodorant that actually works for quite some time.  The Lavilin booth took the time to chat with me and their passion for their product has me ready to try.  With samples here at home, Liv and I are giving this product a go this week, and so far so good!  With products including the deodorants, foot care, skin and body, we're excited to find this line.

 Suzanne's Specialties
All natural, vegan and organic, sweeteners, desserts and toppings

This vegan and organic line of products turned my head, but it was the taste of the Marshmellow Creme (the first, and only, all natural, vegan marshmallow creme) drizzled with a Chocolate Rice Nectar that had me swooning.  Bringing a full line of organic rice nectars and fruit sweeteners, Suzanne's Specialties can be found at Whole Foods.

All of our fat-free, gluten-free, non-GMO and vegan sweeteners are made with only the highest quality USDA Organic or All-Natural ingredients. They contain no preservatives, refined sugars, artificial colors or artificial flavors.
We don't over-refine grains to the point where the identity of the plant itself has been removed, because we believe that there is a healthy value in retaining as much of the original color, proteins, residual oils, and micronutrients of the grains as possible. Our products are truly sweetened the way Mother Nature intended.

Power Berries

While I can't find a web site for this company, their PowerBerries were positively fabulous!!  The vendor mentioned we should be able to find them in Costco soon.  While they weren't in my Costco yesterday, they are indeed something to watch for.


And there are my top 10 Favorites from the Expo West 2014!!  In our bag however I brought home samples of a multitude of snacks, grains, breads, and natural products, and Liv and my son have had a few that they feel are worth mentioning:

Barnana - With Liv's love of anything banana, these Organic Chewy Banana Bites were a big hit!
Crunchies Natural Snacks - Freeze-Dried and bursting with flavor, both kids loved the pineapple.
Bare Snacks - We all loved the Crunchy Coconut Chips and the Crunchy Cinnamon Apple Chips

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Ancient Power Oatmeal with Chia and Flax

We all know how good oatmeal is for us... but do you ever just get tired of it?  My son told me the other day "Don't ever serve it again!!  It's just SO boring!"  I'd say that's a challenge issued.  And so we've spiced up our oatmeal, made it more interesting and even made it healthier.

Long known to have cholesterol lowering benefits, (Oats, oat bran, and oatmeal contain a specific type of fiber known as beta-glucan - and since 1963, study after study has proven the beneficial effects of this special fiber on cholesterol levels), antioxidant compounds unique to oats, called avenanthramides are now being said to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.  And if that isn't enough, according to The World's Healthiest Foods, oatmeal also has the potential to stabilize blood sugars, enhance immune response to infection, lower type 2 diabetes risks, and protect against postmenopausal breast cancer.  #superfood 

After reading all these oatmeal benefits I felt even more inspired to kick up our daily oats, and stirring in a tablespoon of chia seed brought not only an interesting texture balance, but calcium, antioxidants, omega-3's and protein (chia is a complete protein containing all nine essential amino acids).  And then we added a little flax meal.  Adding more omega-3's, flax also benefits the cardiovascular system in addition to bringing anti-inflammatory benefits.  Don't forget about its boost to digestive health as well!

Top all these wonderful nutritional benefits with a handful of fresh fruit, a sprinkle of cinnamon (cinnamon can help regulate blood sugar, reduce LDL cholesterol levels, has natural anti-infections compounds, and can help reduce pain linked with arthritis) and a spoonful of chopped walnuts (more Omega-3's, benefits to diabetes and heart disease, can increase your sperm count, and may help in warding off dementia), and you have one extraordinarily heathful and tasty (non-boring) bowl.  Oatmeal is back on our table.

Ancient Power Oatmeal with Chia and Flax
Filled with ancient grains and fiber-filled oatmeal then topped with fruit and nuts, this oatmeal is raised to another level.  Stir in a little vanilla flavored almond milk and you have a dish even your teenagers will get up for!
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4 cups water
1 cups steel cut oats
3 Tbs ground flax meal
1 Tbs chia seed
vanilla almond milk (we like Silk brand as it does not contain carageenan)

Bring water to a boil in a large pot on the stove.  While waiting for water to boil, pour the steel-cut oats into a small bowl.  Add the chia and flax, stir to combine.

When the water is boiling, add the oat mixture.  Reduce heat to medium low and stir.  Allow to simmer lightly until the water has been absorbed (about 25 minutes).  Stir occasionally

Ladle into serving bowls and top with your favorite fruit, a sprinkle of cinnamon and a spoonful of chopped walnuts.  Serve with milk of your choice (we love ours topped with vanilla almond milk!)

Liv Life Note:  If you think far enough ahead, start your oats before you go to bed! Simply bring the water to a boil and add the oat mixture.  Turn stove off and cover.  Go to bed.  When you wake in the morning, most of the water will have been absorbed and you just need a quick heating and maybe a little water added to have your meal ready faster.

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