Thursday, June 30, 2011

Attack of the Zucchini

Last summer was my first foray into a full blown vegetable garden. I had grown a tomato or basil plant here or there, but nothing serious. The house we're renting had a plot of land all cleared and ready to go, and I was convinced my thumb was green enough to take on the challenge.

For a beginner, I was pretty pleased with my success. I loved going out there every night and watering my plants, and marveling at how the things I put in the ground were producing food I could actually eat. Awesome.

And then I realized that I may have been a little too excited when I was plopping those seedlings in the dirt, because suddenly I was picking enough veggies to feed a small army - particularly zucchini. I was making zucchini bread about three times a week and getting really sick of grilled vegetables when I finally decided to haul out all my cookbooks and search for zucchini-related recipes to break up the monotony.

In one of my Everyday Food cookbooks I found what quickly became one of our summer staple meals that we ate probably at least once a week until all those damn zucchinis were gone - a simple and healthy zucchini and chicken salad. The zucchini in my garden aren't ready yet (and I planted a couple less plants this year), but I got a few at the farmer's market last week and decided to make this salad. Even though I know I'll be eating a ton more of it as summer progresses, I just couldn't wait - it just reminds me so much of summer!

Here's the recipe!

Zucchini and Chicken Salad

1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
Coarse salt and fresh ground pepper
1 1/4 pounds zucchini, thinly sliced
1 pound of chicken (the original recipe calls for chicken breasts that you saute and slice, but I cheat and just use shredded rotisserie chicken - that way you eliminate all the cooking!)
1 bunch (8 ounces) spinach, chopped
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
3/4 cup chopped pecans
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup chopped fresh mint

1. In a large bowl, whisk together the olive oil, the lemon juice, and salt and pepper to taste. Add the zucchini; toss to coat, and let marinate while you're shredding the chicken and getting all the other ingredients together.

2. Toss the chicken with the zucchini mixture, spinach, red onion, pecans, Parmesan cheese, and mint. Serve.

How easy is that?? Happy Summer!

And if you have any other yummy zucchini recipes, send 'em my way, please!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Let's Do This!

I've been thinking a lot about motivation lately. Or, more accurately, the lack of motivation that seems to be a constant presence in my life. As I type this, there are about fifty things I should probably be doing. Like cleaning up last night's Fronanas (that's what I've decided to call it - last night we made chocolate with rainbow sprinkles), or folding laundry, or weeding in my garden, or wiping up the smoothie that Anna spilled all over the coffee table. Instead, I'm goofing around on the Internet and seriously contemplating a nap.

It's a funny thing, motivation. Because, at least for me, it seems to only appear when I really need it. Procrastination and I go way back. In college, I was the girl who started her papers the night before they were due, furiously typing into the wee hours of the morning, scrambling to make it to my professor's office with my freshly printed essay in one hand and a ridiculously large coffee in the other. I distinctly remember that the one time I actually completed a paper more than an hour before it needed to be handed in I got a C - a clear indication (so it seemed) that I was much better off waiting to work on any assignments until the last minute.

The same thing goes for my house. Until very recently, the only time I would put a concerted effort into straightening up was when I knew someone was coming over. Because even though I never really loved all the chaos and frustration that went along with my unorganized habits, I could never motivate myself to get it together unless I knew how embarrassed I would feel if anyone saw how messy I really was. So the hours leading up to a visit (from anyone) would be spent maniacally dusting and scrubbing and throwing things into closets. Or bathrooms.

Not too long ago, I ran a half marathon. I trained for over four months, and during that time I think I missed only a handful of runs. I had no problem hopping on the treadmill four or five times a week, and actually, to my surprise, grew to love and enjoy and look forward to my runs. I was totally motivated. I became a runner. And then after my race was over? I think I've gone running maybe four or five times. Suddenly, with no race to train for, I can barely lace up my shoes and get out the door.

Why is it that I can never keep my house clean just for myself and my family? When I know that I love running and how it makes me feel, why can't I seem to hit the pavement when there isn't a race looming in the distance? 

Luckily, I don't have any more papers to write (I hope). My house is a work in progress - my kitchen and bathroom surfaces have been abuse free for over a week! - and I hope one day soon to not shake in terror at the prospect of someone stopping by unexpectedly. I half-jokingly tossed around the idea of sending weekly photos to my sister to prove to her that I'm staying diligent. Or inviting people over for weekly parties. At least then I'd have an excuse to drink...

I've come to the conclusion, though, that sometimes we need deadlines, or house guests, or sisters, to motivate us to do the things we can't seem to do on our own. Sometimes we need the races to push ourselves to get off the couch. And that's okay.

Which is why I signed up for another half marathon. Detroit, I'm coming for you. Right after I finish folding all this laundry...

I'd love to hear about what tricks and tips you have up your sleeves for staying motivated.

Happy Tuesday!

Friday, June 24, 2011

Tickle, Tickle, Tickle

First of all - how come no one ever told me how much fun label makers could be? I'm thinking I would have totally been organized like a hundred years ago if I just had this handy little tool to help identify the contents of all my plastic bins.

I'm still a work in progress over here, and my organizing drill sergeant had to go to Florida, so I'm on my own for a few days. But here's a sneak peek at what I've been doing.

Alphabetized spices, say what?

Importance Level: Extremely High

Mike requested a tiny corner to have as his own in our medicine cabinet. I did much, much better and gave him his own shelf - and even labeled it for him! Yes, I am having too much fun with the label maker!

What my bathroom closet looks like...impressive, right?

I also had to include a few shots from my whirlwind trip to Chicago to rendezvous with NKOTB (and Caitlin - my original NKOTB partner in crime). The concert was a total blast, and I apparently was having so much fun  that I forgot to take many pictures. Don't worry, though. Joey was there and he still has the ability to make me swoon. Sigh. Most of the concert goers were women around my age, and it made me laugh and smile to think about how many of them were just like me - taking a night off from dirty diapers and Elmo to feel like a kid again, with the addition of a few cocktails.

The red wine stained teeth were NOT a part of the original concert...

My train ride companion - Garrett's popcorn. Yum.  Yum. Yum.

And finally, to start your weekend off right, here's a little video of the girl who makes me swoon the most. Tilt your heads to the left (I promise to work on my video skills!) and try, just try, to not be jealous of Max.

Happy Friday!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Surface Abusers Anonymous

Hi. My name is Leslie and I'm a Surface Abuser.

At least, that's what my sister has been telling me. Apparently, for most people, counter tops and tables aren't meant to be covered in an assortment of random crap.

The last few days around here have been a flurry of label makers and drawer organizers and trips to Goodwill. Because Kristin has a mission. She is going to get my house in order if it kills her. And my apologies in advance to all her other loved ones, because we haven't even looked in my linen closet yet, and there's a very real possibility that her head will explode.

It started innocently enough on Sunday evening. Kristin is staying with us for a couple of days, and as she was helping me out by cleaning up in the kitchen after our Father's Day meal, she looks up all casual-like and says, "You know, I could help you get some stuff organized in here if you want." And I start stammering and getting all sweaty, because I know, I know, that it needs to be done and that I long for a beautiful, mess-free house. But I also know what the insides of all my closets and cupboards look like and just how much work getting "some stuff" organized will entail.

And just as I'm about to be all "Nah, let's just have some fun while you're here," Mike practically leaps off the couch and falls to his knees in front of Kristin and pleads with her to please, please, pretty please help me. [Okay, I might be exaggerating slightly about this part. But you get the point, right? Mike really wants our house to be a *little* neater.]

So before I really have a chance to protest, we're literally elbow deep in all the contents of my kitchen cabinets. The funny part is, even though I know my organizational skills are severely lacking, I still kind of thought I was doing an okay job. But then my genius of a sister starts pointing out how much cupboard space I'm wasting (prime real estate, as she calls it) and looking at expiration dates on pantry items. Enchilada sauce from 2007, anyone?

A few garbage bags and one giant restructuring later, my kitchen is suddenly much more manageable. The kosher salt that I use every single day while I'm cooking? No longer kept in the far back corner of the cabinet where it's a pain to reach and annoying to put away (which meant that it more often than not just sat out on the counter). Now it's front and center and super easy to find. And my condolences to the Corningware that gets used pretty much only at Thanksgiving. Instead of taking up all that valuable space (ahem, prime real estate) in the corner cupboard, it's been relegated to a bottom shelf. The organizing world can be cold and cruel, but sometimes you have to do things you don't like so that you don't feel like screaming every time you try to put something away.

This is a work in progress. But the word I should be stressing here is progress, because - and I don't want to get ahead of myself and proclaim to the entire world that I'm now a neat freak - I think that maybe, just maybe, I'm making some.

We shall see. We're far from being done, and right now I should be working on the "homework" Kristin left for me while she is at the gym and Anna is sleeping. I know for a fact that there are quite a few surfaces that are still being really, really abused.

To be continued...

Friday, June 17, 2011

The Right Stuff

I'm putting my yoga pants and comfy t-shirts (business attire for the stay-at-home mom) aside for the night and pulling out my hair crimper, blue eye shadow, and acid washed jeans. What's the cause for the wardrobe switch, you ask? Well, hang on to your hammer pants and take a sneak peek at what my Friday night holds...

That's right. This mama is boarding the Amtrak and hightailing it to Chicago for the NKOTBSB concert. For those of you not in the loop when it comes to all things Boy Band, that stands for New Kids on the Block/Back Street Boys. And it is most definitely the right stuff.

The timing of this concert actually couldn't be more appropriate. As most of you probably know, Sunday is Father's Day. And who do you think the lucky guy was that took me to my first NKOTB concert? I can't imagine that my dad was exactly thrilled about the prospect of accompanying his daughter to an arena full of screeching girls to spend a few hours listening to Donnie and Jordan and the gang croon sappy pop tunes. But he knew how much it meant to me to be there, singing along word for word, and imagining that "Please Don't Go, Girl" was being performed in my honor. He even went so far as to put on a stick-on earring - sorry if that embarrasses you, Dad, but my eight-year-old self thought it was totally awesome and funny, and my twenty-nine-year-old self still thinks you are totally awesome and funny.

I don't have too many specific memories of the actual concert, except for the fact that Joey (who just happened to be the object of my NKOTB affections) wasn't there, because he was sick. But I know that I had a great time, mostly because I was with my dad.

Obviously, this is not at the NKOTB concert.
Sadly, I'm not sure if there is any photographic evidence from that night...

One of my favorite parts about being a mama is watching  Anna and Mike together, and knowing that she is as lucky as I am - her dad loves her and would do just about anything to make her happy. Even if it involves bad pop music and stick-on jewelry.

Or, sharing food.

So to all the dads in my life, Happy Father's Day! I hope your days are wonderful and you continue to make your little (and not-so-little) ones feel loved.

And Joey, if you're reading this, I best be seeing you up on that stage tonight. Because I'm not sure if I could handle being stood up by you twice.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

This and That

I've been having a little bit of blog envy lately, drooling over beautiful pictures and collages and images and wishing I were cool and artsy and had a knack for capturing things on film. I'm definitely not any of those things, but I have been having some fun playing around on Picasa and using a retro camera app on my phone.

Here is what I've come up with - a little slice of what's been going on in my world the past few weeks...
Flowering tree in our yard; Anna playing in her pool; green cake ball; baby birds; Anna going in for a smooch;
again, Anna and her BFF Cedella; crime scene?; my new sticker; peanut butter cake balls; ice, ice, baby
Also - who can tell me about this Pinterest business? It seems like all the cool kids are doing it and I wanna be cool, too. Hit me up, yo!

Sunday, June 12, 2011


All kinds of peeps have been asking me for a recipe for the famous cake balls, and since it's not really a recipe - more like a process - I decided to create a little tutorial so everyone can enjoy these delicious little orbs of cakey goodness. And since I was making 200 of them, I had the perfect opportunity to get some good pictures. If you want to see how they're done best, you really should check out Bakerella and her book. She gives tons of tips and pointers, and gets waaaay fancier than I ever plan to. It also seems like cake balls are the new hotness of the baking world, so it might not be too long before they're showing up all over the place. Starbucks is even selling cake pops now, so if you really get a craving and don't feel like all the work, head over there for your fix!

Ok. The first thing you'll need to do is decide on flavors. Really, any kind of cake will do, although I would probably avoid anything with chunks. Rainbow chip does sound delicious, though, so if anyone tries it with success, let me know! Our favorite is probably red velvet cake. Bake the cake according to the directions on the box in a 9" by 13" pan. Let it cool completely and cut into quarters. If you don't want to make a full batch, here is where you can freeze any sections you don't want to use. Just adjust the amount of frosting and coating you use accordingly. Each quarter of cake will make around twelve balls.

Next, take each quarter and break it into half. Rub the two pieces together so the cake starts to crumble. Continue on with the rest of the sections, and work through all the crumbs to make sure there aren't any big chunks.

After that, it's time to add the frosting. For the red velvet I use cream cheese frosting, but again, any kind will work, although make sure it's not the whipped kind. For a full cake, you will probably need about 3/4 of a tub of frosting. I usually start by adding about half, then more as needed. Use the back of your spoon to mix it in, until it's a consistency that can be formed into balls without being too mushy.

Start rolling! This can get a little messy, but it's fun. For a whole cake, you should probably get between 45 and 50 balls, depending on how big you roll them. Put them on waxed paper on a baking sheet, and when they're all rolled pop them into the freezer for 20 minutes, or the fridge for a couple of hours. You want them to firm up a little bit, but not freeze.

Next, you need to figure out what kind of coating to use. Michael's sells just about every color of the candy coating - most of the colors are vanilla flavored. I know they also make peanut butter and chocolate, too. I've been using the Meijer brand chocolate coating and it seems to work well and taste pretty good, too! Follow the directions on the package and melt it in a small bowl. For a full batch, you'll probably need two bags of coating.

Take only a couple of balls out of the fridge at a time so they don't start warming up. Put one ball at a time in the bowl of melted coating. Don't stir! Use a spoon to cover the ball, then lift it up and tap your spoon on the side of the bowl a few times to get rid of the excess coating and smooth everything out.

Slide the ball off the spoon onto another piece of waxed paper. This might seem a little tricky at first, but you'll get the hang of it! If there is extra coating pooling around the bottom, you can always break it off when it dries, or use a little toothpick to scrape it away.

Here is where you can get a little fancy. Sprinkles? Colored sugar? Mini chocolate chips? Go for it!

All that's left now is enjoying all the fruits of your labor. Sit back, relax, and pop a few of these bad boys in your mouth and let the cake take over!

It doesn't hurt to have an extra cute helper, either...

Happy Sunday!

Extra special thanks to my photographers - Mike and my mom. You really did a wonderful job of capturing the beauty of the ball-making process. xoxoxo 

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Put 'Er There, Pal

I've been elbow deep in green velvet over here for the last couple of hours, and I'm not talking about fabric. I'm talking cake - green velvet cakes that I'm baking for the 200 plus cake balls I'm making for this weekend. Yep, 200. Sounds crazy, I know, but it's for a really good cause, and the more I think about it, staining my fingers with a little bit of food coloring is really the least I could do.

A few weeks ago, I took a stash of my cake balls with me when I went to visit my sister and brother-in-law. I tried to warn them of the addictiveness of these little treats, and sure enough, one bite in and they were asking me if I could make some for Drew's upcoming golf outing. When I came across a recipe for green velvet, I knew it would be perfect - and even though green and white aren't my favorite colors, surely I could put my distaste to the side in honor of doing something charitable, right?

Somewhere along the line, Kristin also asked me if I could put together a poster with pictures and information about all the stuff their charity is involved in. I happily agreed, mostly because there's still a huge part of me that loves anything that involves Sharpies, but also because I was starting to realize just how awesome the High 5ive Foundation actually is.

It's embarrassing to admit, but I never really paid that much attention to all the stuff they do. Sure, my sister tells me about it, and I attempt to keep up with their crazy schedules (seriously, it exhausts me just thinking about it sometimes), and I've been to a few events, helping out when I can. But last night, she handed me a stack of pictures to use, and I was just about a sniffly mess looking through them.

It's probably because I'm a mama now, but seeing actual photographs of the kinds of things the foundation is providing really hit home. Because those babies that need those bubble machines to distract them when they're getting chemotherapy or see the puppets being used to show them what a CAT Scan will be like? Those babies could easily be my baby. And even though there is absolutely nothing that I can think of that would be worse than seeing Anna in need of any of that stuff, it's comforting to know that there are people like Drew and Kristin (and everyone else involved in the foundation) who are doing something to make an awful situation a tiny bit better. My love and respect for both of them has grown so much in just the last few days.

Here is an article about how Drew won the Lions' Man of the Year Award for the second year in a row.
And here is one about an event they do around the holidays.
More information about the puppets can be found here and here is a little bit about the bubble machine.

A couple hundred cake balls? No big whoop.

And in between all the rolling and dipping and decorating, I'm going to take a little extra time to hug my baby a little tighter and be thankful for all the wonderful people in our lives.

If you want more information about High 5ive (because I certainly can't do justice here to all the things they are doing), please check out the website:

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Where'd You Hear That, A Renaissance Festival?

It's Tuesday, you say? I am all mixed up on my days of the week right now, which I suppose is one of the joys/curses of staying home with Anna. Other than the fact that there are more people to hang out with on the weekends, most of my days are pretty much the same. Awesome because I never get that yucky Sunday night "Ugh, I have to go to work tomorrow" feeling. Lame because I also almost never get that exciting Friday afternoon "Woo hoo - two whole days of freedom" feeling. I am definitely not complaining here, just observing. With anything in life, there are positives and negatives, and for me, right now, the good things are piled up much higher than the bad.

My calender is all askew, though, because of the long Memorial Day weekend and then an extra long weekend visit from my brother-in-law T.J. It's also possible that I ate way too many bananas and am just now waking up from a food coma. Anyways, as promised, I would like to share with you some of our adventures.

It all started with a Groupon offering two-for-one admission to a Renaissance Festival in Marshall. Since it was a good deal, and neither one of us had experienced one of these magical fairs before, we decided to give it a shot. In my head, I was probably picturing the movie A Knight's Tale. You know, Heath Ledger-types running around sweeping sleep-deprived mamas fair maidens off their feet while an awesome 80s soundtrack played in the background.

I also had dreams of giant turkey legs and mugs of ale, but let's just say that it wasn't quite what I had envisioned.  First of all, there were no wenches serving beer - only one little food booth dishing out hot dogs and lemonades. And even though I knew Heath Ledger wouldn't actually be in attendance, I was a little disappointed in the lack of knights in shining armor. Well, except for one...

Anna was really digging the belly dancer.

So was this kid.

Would have been a great shot, except for the lady holding her cigarette and coffee. Way to stay in character, right?

The King and Queen of the festival!
We did have tons of fun people watching, although I'm curious to know if this particular festival was on par with others. I've heard there's a big one in Clarkston - maybe that's where all the ale swilling takes place? And even though we're not racing out the door to buy corsets and daggers and start talking in British accents, we accomplished our main goal of experiencing something totally new and different.

The rest of the weekend was spent letting Anna (and Cally) enjoy the new pool, much more our speed, turkey legs or not.

Happy Tuesday! It is Tuesday, right?