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  1. Monday, August 30

    Freezer Jam ROCKS

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    I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again…freezer jam is the best, for two important reasons:

    • It tastes amazing, fresh, delicious, wonderful…did I mention fresh and amazing?
    • It’s so easy to make. I mean EASY. And it’s easy to store, too. No canning necessary, just pop in a tupperware or jar or whatever you have and stick it in the freezer.

    If you haven’t made freezer jam before, please give it a try! There are all kinds of yummy fruits just begging to be preserved this time of year, so go ahead and make their dreams come true.

    A few quick tips:

    • I don’t have a recipe to share because I just follow the directions inside the pectin box and everything comes out just lovely.
    • Follow the directions to a T! One time I put the fruit in a food processor instead of mashing with a potato masher like the directions said – the jam barely gelled. Another time  I put the wrong amount of fruit in (apparently because I can’t read) and it didn’t gel at all. Just do what the instructions say and everything will work. Promise!
    • To figure out how much fruit you need, buy the pectin, open the package and look at the instructions for freezer jam. Do that ahead of time so you get the right amount of fruit. You can generally find pectin in the baking aisle at the grocery store – go with the powdered pectin, I’ve had better results.
    • Even though freezer jam is fast and easy to make, if you DO end up having fruit you want to make jam out of and just don’t have time, mash or chop the fruit up as per the directions, put in a ziploc bag and freeze the fruit…then make the jam later when you get a free minute. I’ve done this several times, with good results. That way you can take advantage of the in-season fruits, even if you’re not ready to make your jam.
    • If you really want to know everything I have ever said about freezer jam in addition to this post, click here.

    My favorite flavor by a long shot is RASPBERRY. But peach is pretty amazing. Who am I kidding, the strawberry is pretty darn good, too. Happy jamming!

    Click here for a follow-up post on how many strawberries and raspberries to buy to make jam.

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  2. Sunday, August 29

    Week 188 Menu

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    This peach jam is taunting me this morning. Begging to be eaten. But I can’t. It’s not ready. Word of advice: when you make jam that needs to sit for 24 hours before eating, make it in the MORNING so that the next morning you can actually eat it…in the MORNING. Mmmmm….doesn’t it look good? It’s got to be ready, right? Walk away, Jane. Just walk away.

    I’m going to do a little post tomorrow about jam. Make sure to check in. Until then…let’s plan a menu, shall we?

    MONDAY:
    - Spaghetti

    TUESDAY:
    - Red beans and rice (I KNOW. It’s been on the menu for 3 weeks. I haven’t been to a normal grocery store in those 3 weeks to get the ingredients I need…but I WILL be making it this week!)
    - Cornbread (so many of you planned cornbread type foods last week, now I’m craving it)

    WEDNESDAY:
    - Homemade pizza (this is what Cate requests every week!)

    THURSDAY:
    - Leftovers

    FRIDAY:
    - Eat out

    SATURDAY:
    - I feel like grilling hot dogs and hamburgers…it is Labor Day weekend, seems like a fitting end to the summer
    - Corn on the cob and baked beans

    SUNDAY:
    - Tacos

    Bring it on! Show us what your menu’s got!

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  3. Friday, August 27

    Adobo Chicken…and some darn good tortillas

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    I am finally writing about the spice from this week’s menu post. As some of you guessed, it is annatto seed, also called achiote seed. And I made adobo chicken with it. And it was GOOD.

    Nate came home one day saying how good the adobo chicken at work is, so I started searching for recipes. Oh my, there are so many recipes and they are all so different from one another…so I just picked one that sounded good and went for it. And the result was delicious! Different than what Nate had at work, but delicious just the same!

    Before I get to the recipe, I have to talk about the tortillas we used with our chicken. Tortilla Land sent me some of their uncooked corn tortillas to try out. I’m a tough corn tortilla critic and, I have to say, I’m so glad Tortilla Land sent me their corn tortillas. They are wonderful! They are not dry at all and don’t fall apart or break, which is what you normally get with store bought corn tortillas. I saw Tortilla Land at Costco just this week, so keep an eye out next time you go!

    Okay, back to annatto seed and adobo chicken. I used a recipe from About.com, but I’ve changed it up and written it out for you below. I know the recipe looks long, but honestly, this was an easy recipe, so don’t be scared!

    The sweet but spicy sauce is oh so yummy, and grilled chicken is always the best. We served the chicken with tortillas, tomatoes and avocado. You could serve over rice if you like (which I think is how it’s generally served), or just eat straight up!

    Adobo Chicken...and some darn good tortillas
     
    Sweet and Spicy!
    Author:
    Recipe type: Main Dishes
    Ingredients
    • 4 chicken breasts (I actually used 3 drumsticks and 3 boneless thighs b/c that’s what I had on hand!)
    • Salt (pref. kosher)
    • Rub:
    • ½ Tbsp. annatto (achiote) seeds
    • 1 Tbsp. orange juice
    • 4 Tbsp. white vinegar
    • 1 tsp. cayenne
    • 1 tsp. black pepper
    • 4 garlic cloves
    • Sauce:
    • ⅓ of the rub above
    • 1 cup orange juice
    • 2 Tbsp. vegetable or canola oil
    • 1 tsp. basil
    • 1 tsp. cinnamon
    • ½ tsp. salt
    • a splash or two of white vinegar
    • a few shakes of cayenne pepper
    • a few shakes of black pepper
    • about 1 tsp cornstarch, whisked with some cool water
    Instructions
    1. Cover annatto seeds with boiling water. Cover and let sit overnight.
    2. Drain seeds. Place seeds along with the rest of the “Rub” ingredients in a food processor. Grind until you have a coarse paste, without too many large pieces of seed left.
    3. Place chicken in a casserole dish and sprinkle all over with kosher salt (or regular salt if that’s what you have). Cover pieces with about two-thirds of the achiote rub. (Note on the picture below: I just sprinkled salt and pepper over a few extra pieces of chicken for my girls, so they would be less spicy – they still ate the sauce, but the chicken had less heat for their younger palettes.) Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerator for a few hours.
    4. Preheat grill. Grill chicken about 10 minutes on each side over a medium flame or until done. (Click here with even better directions for grilling chicken pieces – this follows closely to what Nate did over a charcoal grill, he’s smart like that.)
    5. To make the sauce, mix all the sauce ingredients (except the cornstarch) and bring to a boil, then simmer for 5-10 minutes. Add the cornstarch mixture during the simmer.
    6. Pour sauce over grilled chicken and enjoy!

     

     

    By the way, if anyone out there DOES have an adobo chicken recipe they love, please share! Would love to try it out!

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  4. Wednesday, August 25

    While we’re talking frosty treats…let’s make some frozen yogurt!

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    I’m doing something today I never do. I’m recycling a recipe AND a photo. But I just feel like I NEED to. The warm weather calls for it and, since I first wrote about this recipe, there are a lot more of you reading this here blog. I’m saddened to think you may have missed the original homemade frozen yogurt post from back in the day.

    I love my frozen yogurt recipe. Great texture, just sweet enough, and downright addictive. Also, you can freeze the leftovers without it getting icy. (Xanthan gum is the key and worth tracking down!)

    Jane’s Homemade Frozen Yogurt

    • 2 C plain yogurt (Trader Joe’s European Style is my favorite yogurt for this, Greek is good too, or just plain old plain yogurt will work as well!)
    • a little less than 1/2 C sugar
    • 1/2 C milk
    • 1/8 – 1/4 tsp xanthan gum (see my comment below (comment #2) for more details about xanthan gum)

    Mix ingredients together and follow directions for your ice cream maker (Cuisinart – 25 minutes)

    It’s kind of tragic, I haven’t made this frozen yogurt in aeons (which Nate has reminded me of more than once!). I’ve recently discovered Pinkberry and their amazing coconut frozen yogurt. I think today’s post has inspired me to dig out my ice cream maker that’s been hiding and figure out the coconut flavor. Mmmmmmm…..

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  5. Tuesday, August 24

    Strawberry Milkshakes…just in time for summer!

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    Okay, you may be thinking the title of this post is nuts, since summer is over. Apparently Mother Nature doesn’t think so. After a downright cold summer here in the Bay Area, the last two days (including the first day of school) have been steamy hot. What the? So, despite the fact I’m annoyed I can’t take Cate swimming and none of her new school clothes work in hot weather, at lease I can eat my way out of my sorrows.

    How about a strawberry milkshake? Sounds good to me!

    People, my milkshakes last night rocked. Actually, I would say that they brought all the boys in the yard. And I can teach you how to make it. But I have to charge.

    Okay, now that I have that out of my system, and that song is permanently in all of our heads, on to the recipe. The texture for our strawberry milkshakes last night was perfect. Hopefully this “recipe” comes out just as well for you!

    Strawberry Milkshakes
     
    Prep time
    Total time
     
    Author:
    Serves: 4
    Ingredients
    • 2 handfuls of strawberries
    • 1-2 tablespoons sugar
    • ½ - 1 tsp vanilla extract
    • 1 cup milk
    • 1 large handful crushed ice
    • 7 or so large scoops of vanilla ice cream
    Instructions
    1. If you have a regular blender, slice strawberries. If you have a nice heavy-duty blender, just halve the berries. Place in a bowl, sprinkle with vanilla extract and coat with sugar. Let sit for at least 20 minutes (can be refrigerated for later).
    2. Place the following ingredients in the blender in this order: Milk, Ice, Ice Cream, then Strawberries. Blend well.
    3. This recipe made four 10-oz milkshakes.

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  6. Sunday, August 22

    Week 187 Menu

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    I visited one of my favorite spots yesterday and bought this…

    If you can tell us what spice (or, more accurately, seed) it is, you win the Spice Queen/King title for the day! And if you don’t know what it is, you’ll find out soon enough…I’m trying a new recipe this week involving this beautiful seed and you can bet I’ll be writing about it (crossing my fingers it actually tastes good!).

    Last week there was a lot of shifting with my menu. I ended up changing a lot of what we ate based upon the stores I had a chance to shop at. So, we’ve got a few repeats from last week’s menu.

    MONDAY:
    - Recipe that uses the above spice that I’m keeping a secret for some reason…I guess I’m bored? ;)
    - Fresh corn on the cob from the farmstand

    TUESDAY:
    - Homemade pizza just for Cate, who will officially be a KINDERGARTENER on Tuesday!

    WEDNESDAY:
    - Red beans and rice (Thanks for the link, butterfly wishes! And Emily, I’ll be sure to try the recipe you shared last week as well!)

    THURSDAY:
    - Leftovers

    FRIDAY:
    - Chili

    SATURDAY:
    - Eat out

    SUNDAY:
    - Scrambled eggs with tomatoes, basil and mozzarella cheese
    - Fresh fruit

    As always, I’m incredibly appreciative of you all sharing your menus. I love that you provide ideas for each other, and, more importantly, for ME. Yeah, this is all about me in the end. ;) Seriously, though, my brother recently asked me where I go for ideas every week. I don’t go any further than this blog…I just browse through previous weeks’ menus and look at your comments from the week before. That’s it. So, THANK YOU!

    Can’t wait to see what you’ve got planned for the week! Have a good one!

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  7. Thursday, August 19

    The Avery SocialLuxe Lounge and an amazing weekend in NYC!

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    I’m finally sitting down to write about the 2010 Avery SocialLuxe Lounge. Ah, SocialLuxe. Even now, two weeks later, I don’t know where to begin! The party was a-maaaaaay-zing. Our sponsors were wonderful, the location was off the HOOK, and throwing the party with Allison Czarnecki and Marie LeBaron was by far and away the best part of it all. I simply feel grateful for the chance to be a part of it.

    Allison, Me, Marie – The Dream Team

    Warning: this is a long post. But it’s FUN and represents a year of my life, so I just gotta make it a big ole monster post of SocialLuxe fabulousness. (If, after all of this, you are still dying to see and read more about SocialLuxe, we have a pretty sweet Flickr page here, and we’re collecting posts about the party here.)

    Pre-party preparations

    The Avery SocialLuxe Lounge took place on August 5 in New York City at Arena, near Bryant Park. We had 350 wonderful bloggers in attendance, including this unbelievable list of VIPs. UNBELIEVABLE, right?

    The Bloggess (Funniest BlogLuxe Award Winner, 2009 VIP), Megan Jordan (Velveteen Mind), Christine Koh (Boston Mamas)

    This year Avery was our title sponsor for the event. They were wonderful. Their conference survival kits for each guest were adorable and totally useful to boot. We absolutely adored working with Avery.

    In addition to Avery, we had a whole slew of amazing sponsors. Frito-Lay, International Delight, Stride Rite and Ghirardelli were all at the party, providing their own unique and fun twists. Celebrity designer Heather Thomson was also there helping women to feel yummy with her Yummie Tummie line. (These waiters were also wearing Yummie Tummie products…which they admitted to loving.)

    This year we featured a very special non-profit organization, Drop In and Decorate. They were at the party to meet bloggers, educate them about what the organization does, and gave guests the chance to design cookies to benefit the Center Against Domestic Violence of New York. Drop In and Decorate is definitely worth checking out, so click on over to their site!

    SocialLuxe is all about the pampering. Hair, makeup, henna, manicures by OPI and the most fantabulous aromatherapy massages by Aveda really rounded out the evening. I could have sat in that massage chair for hours.

    The swag was sweet, too. It was SO fun giving each guest a giant bag full of wonderful goodies. From totally delicious smelling Scentsy products to totally classy gifts from Cambria Cove to totally awesome face cream from StriVectin to totally rockin’ headphones from Skullcandy…and so much more. It was nuts!

    This is what stuffing 350 bags looks like

    Shabby Apple provided the three hostesses (including myself) dresses for the weekend. I can’t even tell you how many compliments I got on my Frida K dress. I sure was glad I was wearing it that night…made me feel all confident and stuff. And, confession time, I wore it again two nights later.

    SocialLuxe was a TON of work, but it was worth it, for so many reasons. Oh, and I won the Tastiest BlogLuxe award with dear sweet Ree, The Pioneer Woman! Yippee! (Don’t miss the list of all the winners here.)

    The weekend didn’t stop there. The BlogHer conference was just as overwhelming as ever, with over 2000 bloggers in attendance. The highlights of the weekend for me were two more parties.

    Ree (The Pioneer Woman), Jaden (Steamy Kitchen) and Elise (Simply Recipes) held a cocktail party on Friday night, where I finally met Matt Armendariz from Matt Bites and got to hang out with the David Lebovitz. And I’m officially in love with both of them.

    Some of my closest and favorite blogging friends, at Ree’s party…Kristen, Me, Allison, Rachael, Marie and Kami (Photo from Justin Hackworth)

    And on Saturday night I had the chance to attend another cocktail party hosted by NATE BERKUS. He was super sweet and I love him now even more than I did before. I honestly can’t wait to see his new show in a few weeks.

    Oh, and then I danced the night away at Sparklecorn, one of the official BlogHer parties. I haven’t danced like that since college. It was a BLAST. (And I make a brief appearance in this video, thankfully hidden behind some crazier girls than I…)

    I’ve gotta say, New York City treated me well.

    Oh! I almost forgot. Not only did I get wined and dined in NYC, but I also became an official minivan mom. That’s right, I had me a Swagger Wagon for my East Coast trip this summer. Toyota provided me with a Sienna to use the whole two weeks I was out East. It was fabulous having it on our family vacation on Cape Cod and, surprisingly, it was even more fabulous to have it in New York City for SocialLuxe. It hauled people and boxes of stuff equally as well and I don’t know what we would have done without it. And, once ‘Jersey Jane’ kicked in, I could handle driving that van in the city as well as any cab driver.

    Cate and Anna loved having the van…they sat in the way back the whole time we had it and Cate was enamored with the sliding doors. And, because they look too cute (and hardcore!) in Skullcandy headphones, we of course had to do a rap album cover photo shoot.

    After all, this is a swagger wagon…and my girls know how to swagger. No diggity, no doubt.

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  8. Tuesday, August 17

    Jelly Belly Factory Fun!

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    Today the girls and I trekked north 1 1/2 hours to visit the Jelly Belly factory and go on their free tour. If you live in or visit Northern California, this is definitely a fun thing to do with the kids! And, come to think of it, it’s fun for all ages! My favorite part of the tour was watching the children peer through the windows down at the factory floor. I’m certain they could have sat their quietly for hours on end. (Sadly, no photography inside the factory itself…which was KILLING me. If only, if only…)

    Want to know the trick to a successful Jelly Belly Factory Tour visit? Get there right when it opens! We didn’t wait at all….and when we finished our tour an hour or so after we arrived, the line was INSANE. Don’t go late! Don’t do it! No sleeping in! And definitely go on a weekday, when the factory is going strong! It’s just too fun watching all those jelly beans jumping around on the conveyor belts.

    When I asked Cate a few hours after we got home what she thinks of the factory, she simply replied, “I love it!” She and I decided that the Jelly Belly factory is one of the happiest places on earth. The factory workers on the floor would look up and wave and smile at the kids over and over. I think making pretty colored candy all day must put you in a good mood.

    Look. Even the french fries are happy.

    Maybe it’s the hats.

    Or the jelly bean art.

    Honestly, I think the source of all the happiness is the kids, longingly observing the wonder that is millions of jelly beans all in one place.

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  9. Sunday, August 15

    Week 186 Menu

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    Good morning! Here, have a fresh blueberry muffin.

    It’s looking like all is calm on the blogging front. Sorry for all the malware fire drills the last two weeks. Nate said I should give another update and explain what happened. Basically, because I’m on a shared server, I was hacked. Both times it happened, we caught it right away, so no damage was done. Except Google blacklisting me, which was a pain. Everything is fine now, the site is totally safe. Phew! I am probably going to shell out some cash and start paying for a dedicated server, to minimize the risk. Although…my developer said he’s never seen one site get hacked so much in such a short period of time, so I think there was simply a lot of bad luck at play, too. Thanks for trusting me and coming back!

    On to business…

    MONDAY:
    - Oriental Chicken Salad
    - Dumplings

    TUESDAY:
    - Mac & Cheese (we’re going to the Jelly Belly factory that day, can’t wait!)

    WEDNESDAY:
    - Red beans and rice (Hey butterfly wishes….have a recipe you’d like to share? :) )
    - Cornbread
    - Carrots and dip

    THURSDAY:
    - Stuffed Shells

    FRIDAY:
    - Frittatas (flavor TBD – I have a billion eggs in the fridge that need to get used!)

    SATURDAY:
    - Eat out

    SUNDAY:
    - Chili (sorry for anyone living with heat and humidity right now…it’s downright chilly where we are, I’m ready to whip out the Halloween decorations!)

    I think you know what to do now…share your menus! And have a fantastic week….summer is almost over, eat it up!

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  10. Friday, August 13

    I’m in love with my dish soap

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    I know, I know…how can someone be in love with dish soap? Here’s how:

    • I finally bought myself an olive oil dispenser to put my dish soap in. I’ve been wanting to get one of these for years and finally thought about it while I was simultaneously standing in a store that sold them. I was honestly giddy on Tuesday when I came home with this dispenser. I know, this isn’t an original idea, but that doesn’t make it any less awesome. And I LOVE the dispenser that I found. Isn’t it beautiful? (I’m also kind of loving this orange ceramic one as well. I’m committed, but maybe one of you can buy it in my honor? P.S. I got mine at Kohl’s in case you’re wondering.)
    • I love Costco’s Kirkland brand environmentally-friendly liquid dish soap. It’s clear, it has a nice light scent and it cuts through grease. I normally love Method for environmentally-friendly products, but their dish soap wasn’t powerful enough for me. I was so happy to discover that the Kirkland version works fantabulously.

    Now you can see why I’m in love, right? My soap is pretty, it works great on grease, and is nice to the environment to boot. Too bad it doesn’t make me want to do dishes more. I guess I can’t expect my soap to work miracles on top of all the other great things it’s doing!

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