Monday, April 22, 2013

Living Life Through Photos - Wordless Monday

Somehow I must have been "Living Life" so much that I forgot to take my vitamins.  With the last two weeks moving at light-speed ahead, I picked up a nasty cold, and while I've spent lovely days in full Dance Mom mode,  walking the beach and viewing the flower fields, I'm now home with about 0% energy and in desperate need of a nap.

Spending a bit of this morning sorting and editing photos has left me with a few beauties that I thought I'd share, hence, we have a Liv Life Wordless Monday taking you through some of our local sights and moving moments from the last few weeks.

Hoping to be up and around soon I'd love to hear any of your cold remedies that blast through this congestion and wipe away these itchy watery eyes.  Goodness... I sound like a commercial.

Here's hoping you are healthy and Living Life to the fullest!

Local Carlsbad Flower Fields are in full bloom.  These beautiful Ranunculas reached for the spring sky.

Pelicans in the sky
 Pelicans catching the wind.

Woman alone at the beach
 Anonymous woman enjoying a peaceful afternoon.

Yellow Rose and buds
My backyard...

 Also my backyard...

 Sisters performing a duo that brings tears to my eyes at their sheer joy of being together every time I see it.

Leaping girls

How does she do that??!!

 Someone is ready to take a nap with me...

Avacado half
 Healing foods.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Cafe Elysa, Agua Hedionda - Carlsbad, CA in Spring

Though our Southern California winters may be considered "mild" by some standards, the recent sunny spring weather has brought our Carlsbad, CA locals out in droves for early morning walks along the beach.  Mingling with tourists soaking up the brilliant sun, locals walk their dogs, run for miles and simply enjoy the view from the sea wall.

Strolling along the Agua Hedionda Hubbs Trail brings views of birds, blooming flowers and the occasional fish leaping away from the long fly of a fisherman looking for dinner.  Pelicans roosting over the mussel farm pods leisurely take off for a change of scenery and soon find themselves soaring on the wind in prefect formation while the squirrels and bunnies watch from below.  Loons call to each other from the thrush along the shore as graceful egrets stalk their slippery prey, and in the middle of it all is me, just taking it in.

For years I've been lucky to visit these creatures multiple times a week, and over time I've even come to recognize a few "regulars" in the habitat.  Meeting fellow school moms for a little exercise finds us catching up on kid's activities and current events in addition to frequently capping off our walks with a stop at the Cafe Elysa, just off of the Coast Highway (across from the Carlsbad Inn).

Owned by the French Bakery in Carlsbad and located less than half a block from the beach, Cafe Elysa becomes the ideal spot to rest your feet after a morning run or bike along the shore.  Cases filled with pastries immediately catch your eye as the aroma of freshly brewed coffee piques your appetite.  With a breakfast menu featuring breakfast sandwiches, quiches, French Toast or simply a fresh croissant, you are sure to find something to enjoy.

Free Wi-Fi and flaming fire pits make lingering over coffee tempting, and the view of the Coast Highway provides an endless supply of people to watch if your desire is simply to sit and gaze.  Cafe Elysa brings a nice local atmosphere for your morning breakfast (served all day) or coffee and now features burgers in the afternoon.   Definitely worth a stop if you find yourself visiting our sunny surf town.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Thai Coconut Chickpeas from The Passionate Vegetable

Thai Coconut Chickpeas from The Passionate Vegetable

Have you ever had someone write a cookbook just for you?  I never expected it to happen, but it has.  Much as I know it may not be true, I'm firmly sticking to my belief that Suzanne Landry had me in mind when she created her new book, The Passionate Vegetable.

First and foremost, the pictures in Ms. Landry's book immediately had me flipping through the photo splashed pages while gaining visual insight about the recipes included in the book.  Sections including Healthy Start Breakfasts, Salads, Soups, Grain, Beans and Vegetables had my heart, but it was the To Meat or Not to Meat chapter that let me know Ms. Landry understood my hope to increase vegetarian foods while still enjoying my favorite animal proteins.

The Passionate Vegetable Book Cover

Meat has been and always will be a part of my life, but as I age, I'm finding my meat requirements and desires are waning as more vegetarian tastes take over.  Not having been a huge fan of vegetables as I was growing up, my vegetable repertoire has remained fairly slim and I find myself quickly tiring of steamed broccoli.  Ms. Landry, however, seems to fully understand my quandary and hence, wrote The Passionate Vegetable to help.

Suzanne Landry
A mother who raised her children to look to nutritious foods for health, Ms. Landry has been teaching vegetarian cooking classes for over 30 years.  What she discovered in her classes though, were people just like me.  People hoping to increase vegetables, grains, beans, etc, but who were not ready or willing to become a full fledged vegetarian.

Raising my own children with similar ideas, we often turn to natural, organic when possible, nutritious foods to keep us all healthy and to grow their young bodies.  With Liv entering the teen years and also being an athlete, food is vitally important in keeping her bones strong and her body energetic.  She's discovered first hand how different foods can have huge impacts on her energy and performance levels as well as overall health, and has found herself naturally turning to fruits and vegetables to keep her immunity up through her incredibly demanding schedule.

The Passionate Vegetable approaches life the way we "Liv" it, and Ms. Landry's recipes make it easy for a mom to feed her family to meet those healthy requirements I listed above.  Clear, organized and filled with information, The Passionate Vegetable includes sections with easy to understand information on foods, stocking your pantry, making choices, and cooking tips galore.

Her book brings family favorites like Breakfast Fruit Muffins, Hawaiian Cole Slaw, Bison Chili Con Carne and Marvelous Minestrone to the table along with better for you sweet treats like Best Ever Apple Pie and the one I'm eager to try - Chocolate Coconut Bars with an oatmeal crust and a chocolate, cocnut-infused topping.  "Bits of Insight" listed at the bottom of many recipes bring additional information regarding ingredients and cooking tips as well as serving ideas and additional health information.

Ms. Landry's book goes beyond the simple "cookbook" and instead brings a plan for a healthier yet flavorful and enjoyable way to Liv Life.  I'm honored to review this book and bestow my highest endorsement on The Passionate Vegetable.  And personally, I can't thank Ms. Landry enough for writing a book just for me...

Thai Coconut Chickpeas on square white plate

Friday, April 12, 2013

Secret Ingredient (Shhh.... Avocado!) Mango Smoothie

Avocado Mango Smoothie pictured with half an avocado
From the avatar on the top of Liv Life, you may have guessed that the avocado rates fairly high on our favorite foods list.  While I find the fruit obviously visually appealing, the nutritional punch the little beauty packs while bringing flavor and texture to recipes has my heart... literally.

Deemed a Super Food in the eyes of many (*** please see below for info on peeling to get the most health benefits), the avocado features a plethora of health benefits including supporting cardiovascular health, aiding diabetes with blood sugar regulation, and enhancing the body's ability to absorb nutrients.  Though high in fat, the avocado's fat content has been classified as the "good for you" type and has been documented to provide an anti-inflammatory benefit to problems involving arthritis.  The health benefit list goes on and on, but frankly it's the creamy, flavorful goodness that has me reaching for avocados on most occasions.

California Avocado Blossom
Avocado Blossom
Last year I was the lucky participant on a tour of a Temecula, California Avocado Farm.  Seeing the fruit from seed to tree to fruit was fascinating enough, but it was the beyond fabulous lunch served with avocados in every dish that opened my eyes to the versatility of what I had previously thought of as "salad" or guacamole.

The versatile avocado will never lose face with a simple, delicious guacamole, but it wasn't until I opened my eyes that I began seeing avocados in baking, in ice cream, in soups and yes, in smoothies.

Moving Liv to a dairy-free diet, she found she missed her daily yogurt in her smoothie.  Yesterday I surprised her with this latest smoothie version and she thanked me for adding the "yogurt" to make it creamy.  It wasn't until she was about half way through that I told her about my secret ingredient... no yogurt, the smoothie was indeed dairy free, it as the avocado that provided a touch of creaminess with out altering the flavor.

Looking for a few avocado recipes or something different from just adding avocado to a salad?  Check the California Avocado Commission's recipe section.  Or, just today I stumbled across this stunning cake from my friend, Chris, over at the Café Sucre Farine...  I say we all join her in her kitchen for a slice of the beautiful Avocado Cake with Raspberry Filling and Lime Buttercream Icing??  (Note... this one looks to be a must try for me, but I know I'll never get mine looking as pretty as hers!)

In the meantime, here's a nice, creamy, dairy-free, vegan smoothie that will have you dreaming of the tropics while reaping the incredible health benefits of the lovely avocado.

Avocado Mango Smoothie blended with Tangerine KitchenAid Blender

Avocado Mango Smoothie
Mixed with Liv's favorite ingredients, give this version a try, or simply try adding half of an avocado to your favorite smoothie!

1 1/4 cup juice (we use a Trader Joe's Mango Smoothie or Green Machine when they have it in stock, we've also just used plain orange juice or simply a whole peeled orange)
1/2 cup frozen mango chunks
1/4 cup frozen pineapple tidbits
1/2 ripe banana
1/2 avocado
water or extra juice to think if too thick.

Chopped avocado on a cutting board
Place all ingredients into your blender - my new tangerine colored KitchenAid continues to be a workhorse bringing super smooth smoothies every time.
Blend the ingredients thinning with a few tablespoonfuls of water or additional juice as necessary.  Enjoy!

*** The following information on peeling an avocado for the best health benefits is directly from the Whole Foods Avocado Health Benefits page on their website... please see their site for additional information.

From Whole Foods:   The method you use to peel an avocado can make a difference to your health. Research has shown that the greatest concentration of carotenoids in avocado occurs in the dark green flesh that lies just beneath the skin. You don't want to slice into that dark green portion any more than necessary when you are peeling an avocado. For this reason, the best method is what the California Avocado Commission has called the "nick and peel" method. In this method, you actually end up peeling the avocado with your hands in the same way that you would peel a banana. The first step in the nick-and-peel method is to cut into the avocado lengthwise, producing two long avocado halves that are still connected in the middle by the seed. Next you take hold of both halves and twist them in opposite directions until they naturally separate. At this point, remove the seed and cut each of the halves lengthwise to produce long quartered sections of the avocado. You can use your thumb and index finger to grip the edge of the skin on each quarter and peel it off, just as you would do with a banana skin. The final result is a peeled avocado that contains most of that dark green outermost flesh so rich in carotenoid antioxidants!

Friday, April 5, 2013

Strawberry Vanilla Bean Jam... Fresh from the California fields.

Strawberry Vanilla Bean Jam in a jar

She's coming home. She's coming home. Tell the world, she's coming home...  with Diddy and Skylar Grey's tune coursing through my head, I see the Flight Radar showing the Boeing 757 at some 33,000 feet and winging its way my direction.  Some 6 hours to go and my girl will be home!

Lucky Liv spent her spring break touring the East Coast with tour-filled stops in DC, NYC, Philly and Boston.  Visions of monuments, the White House, Broadway, the Liberty Bell and the Statue of Liberty texted their way to my phone, but I'm eager to hear first hand the adventures my girl along with her 8th grade class have experienced over this week.

Statue of Liberty
While her days have been filled touring some of our country's finest sights, I've been a bit lonely.  My husband spent a good part of the week out of town, my son headed for the beach and with Liv "living life" thousands of miles away, it's been me and the pups.

I did OK for the first day or two (once the plane landed...), but then my heart went out to her as I woke up on the 3rd day to a text saying she had a stomach bug and had thrown up some 4 times that morning.  As the tour had checked out of their hotel, my poor sweetie spent the day hugging a waste basket on the bus while the rest of the class visited the Capitol Building and the Newseum.

Talking to her briefly I could hear her tears as she struggled to remain strong, but my heart broke being so far away.  As stomach bugs do, this one ran its course and left her weak but feeling much better just about the time the bus pulled in to NYC.  A good night's rest had her back on her feet and the next day photos of Broadway filled my phone.

Home alone with anxious energy I headed out with camera in hand, something that always brings me peace.  A long walk on the beach took my mind off the miles and a stop at the local farmer's market had me loading up on fresh organic California Strawberries.  The road home led past one of our local strawberry fields and I couldn't resist jumping out and snapping a few shots of the beautiful red berries as I watched a family from Utah pick their own.  The squealing of the little girls lifted my heart, and I headed home with my fragrant, red treasures.

Strawberry growing in a California Strawberry Field
My personal favorite jam has always been apricot, one that my mother used to make for me with the fruits from a backyard tree as I was growing up.  Last summer, however, Liv tried strawberry jam while on our vacation and begged the question, "Why don't we ever have strawberry jam at home?".  Good question.  My next trip to Trader Joe's brought a lovely jar of organic strawberry jam which I found good, but it wasn't my beloved apricot.  Liv and my son were happy though, so strawberry it's been for the last few months.

Wanting to have something special for her arrival home, I set to chopping my sweet, freshly picked market berries, adding sugar and setting the mixture to simmer for about an hour.  Knowing how she loves vanilla, the seeds from a plump vanilla bean found their way into the mixture just as the jam made its way into the waiting jar.

Having not been successful with canning in the past, this small batch of jam produced just about two cups of sweet, bursting with strawberry flavor, jam which I simply placed in a jar in the fridge without all of the hassle of the canning process.  I've read that the refrigerated jam will last a couple of weeks, but I have a feeling ours won't be around that long.

She's coming home, she's coming home... tell the world, she's coming home.

Strawberry Vanilla Bean jam over Greek Yogurt with Granola
My leisurely breakfasts this week have been a simple bowl of Greek yogurt sweetened with a touch of Strawberry Jam topped with Vanilla Bean Granola.