Friday, December 20, 2013

My Local Holiday Haunts


The holidays are officially here and there's plenty to do.  It's the perfect time to celebrate our fabulous local shops, cafe's and restaurants.  I have a few regular places that I frequent and I've found some delicious new ones as well.  Here's a compilation of my local haunts this season. 

Every holiday I do my utmost to support local businesses as much as possible.  Shopping, eating and lounging locally is one of the best ways to help you feel connected to your community on a deeper level.  Here is where I've been and where I plan to be this holiday season. I am providing links to as many places as possible this year.  Need more ideas or better reasons to live locally?  Check out Sustainable Connections webpage.

1.  Fairhaven Toy Garden:  I bring both my boys to this store all the time.  Sometimes we just play and sometimes we buy.  This year to pacify my children I had them pose with the toys they wanted for Christmas and took pictures of them with my iPhone.  When I finally went shopping for their gifts I had the perfect electronic Christmas list all ready to go.

2.  Kids Northwest:  I've blogged about this wonderful store before.  Mike and Janet are awesome people and steadfast owners and I have been buying Christmas slippers for the boys there for a few years.  This year we hit a milestone.  Ross has finally outgrown the size of slippers that they carry.  I bought Finn's there and Mike sent me to another local store to get Ross' size.  You will find that a common theme among local businesses.  If they don't carry something always ask if there is another place in town to get what you need.  More often than not you will discover a fantastic new store but also unique things you couldn't find anywhere else. 

3.  LFS (Lummi Fishing Supply):  This is where Mike sent me to get Ross' slippers.  This place is amazing!!!  I found at least 5 different things within minutes that I wanted for myself, let alone others.  They carry Acorn slippers for kids, men, and women.  I've got to send Matt there for me.  Now please understand that this is a fishing supply store.  Don't be discouraged by all the manly there.  There is a plethora of items that would be great gifts for men, women and children.  Remember this place also had fantastic outdoor coats, fleeces, sweater and hats.  Currently I am coveting their fisherman caps.  They are considered incredibly chic for women's fashion in Paris right now. 

4.  Ciao Thyme:  This company not only runs their own café but they also cater, host dinners, provide cooking classes, and sell fantastic cooking/food items.  A gift certificate, cookbook, lunch, or gourmet items are fantastic gifts for your favorite food enthusiast ( I hate to use the term foodie.  It conjures too many sarcastic mental images).  I have been hooked on this place every since I was lucky enough to attend a dinner there.  The menu is local and inventive and I can guarantee that the food isn't just impressive but rather astounding.  Gift certificates can be used for the café, dinners, and goods.  This is one of my new favorite places.

5.  Seifert & Jones:   There's a new wine merchant in town and let me tell you that you are missing out if you don't get yourself down here.  Ted and Diane know their stuff and this shop has incredible vino for all price ranges.  Where else can you get a collectors wine and a drinkable one at the same place.  Don't know what wine goes with what?  They will guide you through the confusing world of wine from France to Chili.  Diane was the first to help me in this area when I first came to town.  She was the wine buyer for the Fairhaven Market (now Haggen) then.  I miss seeing her there on my weekly trips to the grocery store but now I'm thrilled that I can still obtain her (and Ted's) guidance in wine.  I always go home with great bottles and I found their prices to be quite reasonable.  Pop in take a look and better yet come to one of their free tasting's on Friday/Saturdays.  Check the link for upcoming events.

6.  Launching Success:  This is an exceptional educational store that is heavily used not only by teachers but also parents.  They also have an amazing selection of toys and their Lego section is pretty impressive.  This locally owned store also coordinates with school PTA's and gives back a percentage of sales for participating schools.  Can't get that at Toys-R-Us.

7.  Chocolate Necessities:  This store houses some special chocolatiers.  Not only is there chocolate incredibly authentic and delicious, almost all of it are works of art.  I got my son's preschool teachers some fabulous treats here.  Authentic truffles, chocolate mardi gras masks, decadent dark chocolate hot cocoa mixes and yes even gelato are sold here.  Their prices aren't out of this world either.  If you can control yourself it can be a very reasonable adventure.

8.  Pure Bliss Deserts:  Right next door to #7 is this delicious desert house.  They make incredible cakes, tarts, and a variety of other delectable.  They even offer wine and beer for those who like to imbibe with their cake.  I got my son's teacher a gift certificate to use at her discretion.  Last year I purchased an incredible lemon tart.  Gluten-free and dairy free options are available upon request. 

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Brussels Sprouts: Yet Another Reason to Buy Local


As some of you may know I'm an avid vegetable eater.  I looooove my veggies.  Always have.  Always will.  However, I have one veggie that so far I have been unable to enjoy. 
The Brussels sprout. 
Oh my.  They are awful things.  Little tiny bitter cabbages that seem to retain their caustic bitterness no matter what I do to them.  I really want to like them.  They are supposedly very good for you but I just can't get past their horrible reaction in my mouth.  I have literally tried everything I know to enjoy the Brussels sprout.  I have even fried them in bacon fat.  BACON FAT!!!  That is when I gave up.  If I can't make them even approach a tolerable level through bacon fat then perhaps this veggie just wasn't meant to be.  I walked away from that dysfunctional relationship and I wasn't the better for it.
So imagine my surprise when I saw that Matt and I were given a bag of Brussels sprouts in our CSA this month.  "Ugh!", was all that I said.  It was like seeing your ex after a really bad breakup.
It's no surprise that I hate waste, so naturally I wasn't going to throw them away.  I wasn't going to give them away either.  Oddly, some little tiny voice way in the back of my head told me that these might just be different.  Something had changed.  But what was it? 
Location.  Location.  Location.
These sprouts were locally sourced and the others ones weren't.  I bought them like most people did.  In the grocery store.  Perhaps these sprouts were being too harshly judged from my previous bad experiences.  Then I started to remember some characteristics of brussel sprouts that might explain why they had never worked for me in the past.  Here are some reasons why I thought these local sprouts might be better.
Brussels sprouts:
  • Hate to travel. 
    They don't age well on the road and are particularly fussy once picked.  Like most veggies and fruits in order to get them to the grocery store they have to be picked earlier than normal.  You just cannot pick Brussels sprouts before their appointed time.  They get bitter very quickly.
  • Grow the best in colder climates.
    Around here most of the grocery store sprouts grow in California.  In case you haven't heard it's usually pretty warm there.  Brussels sprouts get bitter in the heat and sweeter in the cold.  Around here they can even withstand a mild winter.  If it's cold in your area and you get local sprouts they will be sweet and not bitter and therefore taste FAR better.
  • Taste the best when their natural sugars are caramelized. 
    Some people roast them in the oven with olive oil, salt, and pepper.  Others use bacon fat and sauté them in a pan over medium high heat.  Whatever you do make sure at least one side gets lovingly browned.  That's the caramelization.  That's the good stuff. 
  • Are fussy!!!
    You can't just throw those suckers into the oven or pan.  Sprouts require tending. 
    Peel off the tough or discolored leaves.  Trim the ends especially if brown.  Soak them in a large bowl of cool water, scoop them out and let dry.  Then slice them in half.  Now they are ready for cooking.  Feel like skipping these steps?  Get ready for bitter nastiness.  They will taste a lot better when handled properly.
  • Go with just about anything
    Put them over pasta with that extra bacon.  Eat them as an accompaniment to roast chicken or grilled lamb.  Whatever.  They will go nicely with most main courses.
So the next time you see Brussels sprouts in your CSA, a farm stand or better yet the Farmer's Market.  Give them a second chance.  They might just surprise you. 

Here's how Matt made them.  I was understandably skittish and carefully observed with a nice glass of wine.

Matt's Brussels Sprouts
  • 1 1/2 lbs. of Brussels sprouts
  • 1/3 cup finely diced pancetta or bacon
  • 1 tbsp. butter (I prefer cultured butter)
  • freshly ground black pepper to taste
Peel off tough or discolored outer leaves of all the sprouts.  Trim the ends of each sprout while still leaving it intact.  Soak in a large bowl of cool water and let dry.  Then slice in half.  Try to make sure that all sprouts are of similar size.  Larger ones might need to be cut in fourths or thirds depending upon desired size.  Leave the root intact otherwise the sprout will fall apart. 

Meanwhile melt the butter in a 12 to 14 inch sauté pan and add the pancetta.  Keep the heat medium low and fully render the fat from the pancetta.  Once the pancetta is crispy add the Brussels sprouts cut side down.  Turn heat up to medium high.  Once sprouts are browned on one side (6-7 minutes) turn them over and place lid on top of the pan.  Cook for a few minutes longer and add pepper to taste.  Serve immediately.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Easy Handmade Local Crafts and Gifts You Can Make For the Holidays.

Our youngest son is in his last year of preschool at Gardenview Montessori.  It has been a warm and loving place for our entire family and we are sad to see our time there almost at an end.  Every year Gardenview hosts a holiday bazaar and there's a bevy of ways to be involved.  This year I chose to make some homemade creations to sell and then all the proceeds would go to our beloved school.  After posting some pics on my personal Facebook page (I'm still considering making a Living laVita local Facebook page) people began asking for how-to's and recipes for these donations.  So I decided to create a post about it.  This post is a how-to tutorial on how to make the following holiday goodies. 
  • 100% whole wheat pancake mix
  • Pumpkin Spice pancake mix
  • Gingerbread cupcakes with vanilla frosting topped with peppermint chips.
Not only did I have fun making these items but I realized that they make really good holiday gifts.  Also remember that all of these items are for a person with severe lactose- intolerance (That's me!).  The gingerbread cupcakes have buttermilk in them and are easy to digest for the lactose intolerant.  Buttermilk is awesome for that.  To find out why check out my other blog/website regarding dairy and digestion.

O.K.  Let's get moving.  Let's start with the pancake mixes. 
In a nutshell, these are very simple.  It's all the dry ingredients of my recipes mixed together and divided into clean mason jars.  You really could make a fancy holiday mix out of just about anything.  Don't like the idea of pancake mixes?  Choose something that you like or that someone else would like.  I'm considering the idea of a brownie mix, hot cocoa mix, savory bread mix...The options are endless.

Here is the recipe for the pumpkin spice pancakes. They are known also as whole wheat pumpkin pancakes.  It's the same recipe but the idea of pumpkin spice and putting that label on a jar is more appealing. This recipe makes about 12 pancakes and will fill 1 16 oz. pint jar.  Since I filled 6 jars with pancake mix I had to multiply the recipe by 6.  You will need a huge bowl or container.  I used the plastic containers I usually use for making bread.  It should hold at least 1 1/2 quarts. 

Here is the recipe for the 100% Whole Wheat Pancakes that don't feel like a brick in your tummy. 
A brief note on whole wheat flours. 
I prefer to use stone ground whole wheat whenever possible.  The problem however can be one of texture.  Whole wheat is heavy and absorbs more liquid that all-purpose flour.  You cannot just substitute whole wheat flour for all-purpose.  Enter whole wheat pastry flour.  Whole wheat pastry flour has the same health benefits as regular whole wheat flour but is lighter and doesn't create that heavy brick-like feeling in your tum.  White whole wheat flour can also be used in place of whole wheat pastry flour but may be more difficult to find and I feel is a bit lacking in flavor. 

Getting back on topic.  Here's the recipe. 

100% Whole Wheat Pancakes
Dry Ingredients:
  • 1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
  • 3/4 cup whole wheat flour
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp. kosher salt
  • 2 tbsp. pure cane sugar
Wet Ingredients:
  • 1 egg
  • 1 1/2 cups milk of choice (I prefer buttermilk or plain kefir)
  • 3 tsp. oil of choice (I prefer coconut oil)
Mix the dry ingredients together completely.  Melt the coconut oil separately and stir into dry ingredients.  Lightly beat the egg with a fork and stir into the batter.  Finally, add the milk last.  I use a whisk and beat furiously until I get the texture I want.  The batter should not be super thick and lumpy.  It should be smooth and pourable.  Batter too thick?  Add more liquid a little bit at a time and whisk thoroughly.  Moisture in the air can contribute to a too thick or too runny batter.  This recipe errors on less liquid because adding more dry ingredients can be more difficult to adapt. 

Then you just cook the pancakes as you normally would.  For those who have never made pancakes here some basic directions.
  • Heat up oil in a pan on medium heat.
  • Pour or spoon a small amount of batter into the pan.
  • When the sides of your pancake appear dry and the center of the batter is bubbly, flip.
  • Cook the other side, plate and eat that sucka!

**To make the pancake mixes follow these directions.

1.  Wash all lids, rings, and jars in warm soapy water and let them dry completely. 

2.  Multiply the dry ingredients by 6 for 6 pint jars.

3.  Whisk all the dry ingredients completely and fill up each jar to the rim.  Recipients will have to add their own wet ingredients. 

4.  Make labels for the tops of your jars.  I went to this site and downloaded the red regular wide mouth lids onto sticker paper that I got from my local Stampadoodle  This is a fantastic local craft store. Cut out the circle stickers and put onto the lids.  Then write down what is inside the jar, i.e. pancake mix, or pumpkin spice mix.

5.  Stampadoodle also has complimentary dye cut patterns.  As long as you buy your paper there you can use their huge supply of crafting dye cuts.  For those of you who don't know, dye cuts are automatic cutters that will cut a specific shape over and over.  They are expensive to buy your own so I opted (with help) to use a label cut out.

I also went to and downloaded an appropriate template onto my computer.  I used the dye cuts (red label patterns) to choose a template that would fit.  Then I typed in my directions for using the mix (what wet ingredients to add). 

6.  Print the directions out onto the sticker paper, cut to fit the dye cut label and stick it on there. 

Don't you like my antique paper cutter?  It's my mom's and it has a story.  I will share it if pressed.  You need to ask though.  Preferably in the comments section.  :-)   

I used some green hemp string to affix the labels to each jar. 

Here's a so-so picture of the final product.  Remember people buy Bisquick to save themselves the time of mixing dry ingredients.  These mixes are fun, cheerful, healthy, and save your friends/family the inconvenience of making them from scratch.  We all need some extra time savers during the holidays right? 

Now if you still have energy to spare.  Here is the recipe for the Gingerbread Cupcakes I made.  They are super amazing and at the bazaar they sold out in about 1 hour!  If I new they were going to be that successful I would have made more. 

Before I begin I want to tell you that while I make fantastic gingerbread, I struggle with frosting.  I haven't mastered it yet and I resorted to using a canned frosting.  Sorry, but it's the only one I know that doesn't have dairy in it and I haven't found a lactose-free frosting recipe that I like yet.  If you have suggestions/ideas for a good one.  Post it here please!!!

Gingerbread Cupcakes with Vanilla Frosting and Peppermint Chips:
Dry Ingredients:
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour (whole wheat pastry flour will work too)
  • 1/4 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cloves
  • 2 tsp. ginger powder
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
Wet Ingredients:
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 cup cane sugar
  • 1 cup oil of choice
  • 1 cup blackstrap molasses
  • 1 cup (or 1/2 pint) buttermilk  (plain kefir will also work but I prefer buttermilk)
Sift the dry ingredients together into a large bowl. 
In a separate bowl whisk the eggs and add the sugar.  Beat until smooth.  Add the oil, molasses and buttermilk and mix thoroughly.  Gradually add the dry ingredients and whish until smooth. 
Pour batter into cupcake wrappers (I used Reynolds silver ones for their festive appeal) about 2/3 full.  Bake in a 325 degree oven for 30-40 minutes.  Bake until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.

Remove the cupcakes from the cupcake tins and cool on a wire rack.  When completely cool frost with Pillsbury Whipped Vanilla Frosting.    Top with peppermint chips.  If you can't find any in the store, just crush up some candy canes in a plastic Ziploc bag.  Boom!  Instant peppermint chips.  Here are the ones I used.

That's it! 
Actually it was a lot of work and took all day.  But really it was for a good cause and I have about 1 or 2 times a year that I get all crafty.  That stuff takes forever!  I am going to make the gingerbread cupcakes again though.  They were insanely good and I'm not a sweets person.  That is saying a lot!

If you have questions feel free to post them here.  I get back very quickly. 
Happy Holidays to you all.