I’ve had quinoa in my pantry for almost a year and finally used it!

So, about a year ago, I decided to be super-efficient and organized and attacked monthly meal planning with a vengeance (by which I mean I dedicated a Pinterest board to recipes, made detailed grocery lists broken down by week, and was feeling so good about myself that I even created a 2nd Pinterest board for recipes I tried and liked because that’s way easier than just deleting pins that sucked, right?).

I had been reading so much about kale, quinoa, and their other super hero food friends, that I felt I must be missing out on something by not immediately adding them into our dinner rotation. The first week of meal plan implementation had several hiccups in that one or both of us had a meeting or event to attend that conflicted with dinner so the grand meal was foregone in favor of leftovers or pizza or something not on the insanely detailed master menu (in my case, usually a bowl of cereal). And then when I never got around to leaving the island on the weekend to go grocery shopping for week 2, well, it all just went to hell rather quickly from there as many of my pet projects tend to do.

So here we are almost a year later and I still had an unopened bag of quinoa in the pantry that I, in a moment of couponing-be-damned freedom spent $7 on (in my defense, I wasn’t fiscally reckless enough to justify the cost of organic quinoa). I decided to go back to my original Pinterest recipe for quinoa enchilada casserole (compliments of damndelicious.net) and give it a try. Although the cooking directions on the package suggested that I wash and strain the quinoa before cooking, I was having none of that busy work and just tossed a cup into a pot with 2 cups of water. Quinoa cooks pretty much like couscous and rice, with a 2:1 water to grain ratio and you let it all boil and then simmer covered and fluff. Super easy!

20151007_174540_HDR Ta-da! Cooked and fluffed. 

I harvested the last of our amazing chili pepper crop from the back yard, in a variety of shades from green to yellow to red and substituted them for the canned chiles in the original recipe. 

20151007_174544_HDR Paper plates make great cutting boards!

I added some garlic salt, chopped onions, and the rest of the suggested ingredients. Because Ty is a smart man and would quickly realize that this is a vegetarian recipe and immediately protest, I went ahead and added some shredded chicken to the mix.

When Tyler and I lived in KC many moons ago and were not yet parents but just a couple of carefree kids with plenty of disposable income and free time, we used to do things like go to the symphony, art fundraisers, the opera (ok, the opera was my 31st bday present to myself but we all got so hammered at the Young Friends of the Opera pre-party that we never made it to the performance-yes, even dressed the nines, we were classy like that), and book signings (yes, I also used to buy books as opposed to just checking them out from the library, life is funny like that).

On one particular occasion, my mom was visiting from out of town and I had purchased tickets for a book signing event with Anne Byrn, the so-called “Cake-Mix Doctor,” whose cook book for doctoring boxed cake mixes literally changed my mom’s life. Growing up, we never had a single homemade baked good in my home. Birthdays were a time for Pepperidge Farm cakes from the store (and usually a giant taper candle from the mantle to blow out–why waste money on cake-sized candles? It’s not like you had a year to plan for the occasion or anything).

pepperidge farm cake

Holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas meant French Silk and Banana Cream pies from Baker’s Square (admittedly, not a bad thing. I wish we had a similar place in Savannah). Mom’s specialties were fudge and rosettes (most of which were given away; again, not a bad thing. Rosettes are like fried dough with powdered sugar, which in the case of beignets is a good thing, but in the case of rosettes, not so much) but never did we enjoy a home-baked cake within the walls of 1531 King George Court. Imagine my surprise decades later when my mom proceeded to detail all of the cakes she had baked for any and every excuse under the sun based on her new cake bible. But I digress. Anne Byrn wrote a second cook book called the Dinner Doctor, which is the book signing mom and I went to. This book taught me how to poach and shred chicken for a plethora of recipes and it changed my life (or at least the way I cook chicken most of the time). So, long story long, I poached and shredded some chicken and added it to this otherwise vegetarian dish.

20151007_180450_HDR Mixin’ it all together…

20151007_182718_HDR  Puttin’ it in the pan…

Then I gratuitously sprinkled way more cheese than the recipe called for and baked it…I skipped the suggested mozzarella and stuck with just cheddar plus a liberal sprinkling of parmesan on top.

20151007_192211_HDR  mmm…cheesy goodness!

Final verdict? It was really delicious (and even better as leftovers for lunch today!), but after cooking and serving it up, I realized that I forgot to include the chopped cilantro (I blame the distraction of cooking/adding chicken), which I do think would have added a unique zip to the dish.

Tyler pronounced it a winner, noting that the “one thing that would really complement the flavors is diced avocado.” Because of course I forgot the frickin’ avocado (along with the cilantro, both of which were still on the counter). No Kitchen MacGyver points awarded but I highly recommend the recipe nonetheless.

Winner Winner, Chicken Dinner

So if you’re read any of my previous blog posts, you may notice a trend that I like to cook and by cook I mean follow a recipe. We went to lunch recently at a Mongolian Grill-type place where you pick your own meats, veggies, and even spices and they cook it up before your very eyes. Way too much pressure for me with no suggested recipes to follow! So I am an average cook who doesn’t like surprises and is not much for experimenting or going beyond what the recipe calls for. My husband, Tyler, aka Kitchen MacGyver, is always whipping up something fabulous and then demurring, “I’m sure you would have come up with something similar.” Yes, in the same ways that monkeys left alone with a typewriter might eventually re-create the complete works of Shakespeare.

So, imagine my delight last night when I actually surveyed our available in-house edibles and improvised to come up with something amazing! Here is a picture of it…we both had seconds and I put the little bit of leftovers up for today’s lunch but Ty ate it as a midnight snack, which I take as a compliment! It was a simple chicken and rice casserole, but read on to see how I jazzed it up.


Super Fly Yard Bird and Rice Casserole

  • 2 diced chicken breasts (I always use slightly frozen as I find them easier to slice and dice)
  • 2 cans cream of mushroom soup
  • 1 cup of milk (the 1/2 gallon remaining in our fridge expired weeks ago–note to self, clean out fridge–so I used the powdered milk that Ty insists on keeping on hand for hurricanes, zombie apocalypse, etc. Yay for being prepared for an emergency, like not having fresh milk!)
  • 1/4 cup to 1/2 cup of frozen spinach (just happened to find a smidge leftover in the freezer and figured greens are always good)
  • 1 cup rice (I used quick-cook kind)
  • 1 teaspoon of garlic salt
  • 1 teaspoon of nutmeg
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup of parmesan cheese (I used the former because it was all that was left in the can, usually I follow the motto “you can never use too much cheese”)

Mix everything together in one bowl, then pour into a casserole dish sprayed with non-stick spray. I baked it for about an hour and 15 minutes at 350 degrees and when Ty came home, he sprinkled some breadcrumbs on top and cooked for another 10-15 minutes. The perfect finishing touch that I would’ve never in a million years eventually thought of.

Bon Appetit–let me know if you try it and like it!

A Taste of Summer: Blueberries

As much as I love my Jiffy mix blueberry muffins in a pinch, there’s nothing like fresh blueberries, and when we pick them ourselves, they are even sweeter! We made our 4th annual blueberry picking pilgrimage about an hour north of here. It’s a sprawling tract of land that was once upon a time an actual blueberry farm and now it’s just there for the picking (if you know where it is and when to go).

It had rained torrentially the night before, so we slogged through some pretty big puddles (ATVs are the preferred method of transport in this particular area), and even stumbled across a snake in the path (I managed to keep my cool and not scream like the scared-of-snakes-girl that I am) before arriving at the vast expanse of row after row of towering, beautiful blueberry bushes. The first time we went picking, I had never even seen a blueberry bush, so as we made our way down the path and saw a few straggler volunteer plants, we disappointedly assumed that was all there was until we realized that we were idiot city slickers who just hadn’t walked far enough yet to find blueberry nirvana.

We have learned from previous adventures to go early to avoid the relentless southern summer heat; to wear plenty of bug spray (tried the wrist band thingies this time and I thought they worked amazingly well, which is saying a lot b/c I am usually pretty good bug biting material); and to bring a biiiig bucket to fill. I had a huge stainless steel bowl and enjoyed the metallic zing of the first few berries plopped into it. This year, we left with a 6 gallon bucket almost filled to the brim! Then we took them all home, rinsed and cleaned them, froze them in a single row on trays (less clumping, hat tip to Martha Stewart for the trick), and then transferred them to freezer zip lock bags so we can enjoy them all year long. Of course, there’s a huge container of fresh berries in the fridge and I have been enjoying yogurt parfaits, delicious desserts, and even sprinkling them into cocktails (so healthy!).

Behold the beauty of berries in the wild!

blueberry fields forever2  

Behold the beauty of berries that will eventually be in my belly!

blueberry jackpot

Jack surveys the low-hanging fruit; yes we were all sweaty, but the bushes also continued to “rain” on us since they were still wet from a recent storm.

judging the berries

Our picking crew: minions and a tall guy always come in handy (bonus that the tall guy went first and walked headlong into a gigantic banana spider web instead of me!!).

sweaty blueberry pickers sweaty blueberry pickers2

By this point, we had all eaten at least half of what we collected (one for you, two for me…).

Here is a pic of my go-to blueberry cobbler recipe from my dog-earred copy of Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything. It’s also great with blackberries.

Mmmmm….sugared berries…


Ok, I realize that this looks like chicken tenders on top, but it’s actually dollops of dough. I was so excited to eat this that I forgot to take any pix of the finished product, but trust me, it was amazing, especially hot out of the oven and with vanilla ice cream!

Here’s a link to the ridiculously-easy recipe if you want to try it yourself!


Summer as a Verb

Earlier this summer, we traveled to Newport, RI, to visit several of Ty’s family members (brother/wife/kids and brother/new wife we hadn’t yet met/kids). Since Jack is an only child and the youngest of most of his cousins, I always love an opportunity for him to experience extended family. I had never been to Newport, but given a lottery windfall, could absolutely imagine us spending the summer months there. I dare say that I could even become someone who uses the word summer as a verb (e.g., thrown nonchalantly into conversation at any opportunity, “Well, you know we summer in Newport…we love getting away from the tourists, humidity, and gnats on Tybee.”). If it’s good enough for Family Guy, it’s good enough for me!

For some crazy reason whereby we try to recreate experiences from our own childhoods in case Jack doesn’t have enough reason for therapy later in life, we decided to drive from Tybee to Newport. Family road trip! What could be more timeless and memorable? 1000 miles? 15 hours? Sign me up! We left around 6 pm and it only took about an hour before we got a call from the pet-sitter that our Houdini dog had escaped from the yard in the pouring rain. Yay!

However, the rest of the trip went smoothly. Here is a re-counting of our trip via various photos…I double dog dare you not to want to make some summer memories of your own there!

Of course, we had to make a stop at South of the Border. They closed at 10 and we got there at about 9:52 pm. Enough time for a quick potty break and hurried purchase of a wooden yo-yo and giant sombrero for Jack. I loved that a scene from East Bound and Down was filmed at SOTB!

Yo-yo pictured below:


We drove through the night (read: Tyler drove while Jack and I slept) and by the time we were in NY, it was my turn to drive, which explains why we have a picture of the NYC skyline that Ty was able to take.

NYC out the window

I even drove us across the George Washington Bridge (GWB for those of us who’re NY natives) and got us through the bumper-to-bumper traffic. Thank God for the lower bridge level as I would’ve seriously had a heart attack driving over the upper level due to my fear of heights. Most obvious takeaway of the interstate system there vs. in the south: the ratio of toll roads to horrible road conditions was crazy…what are they doing with those funds? Obviously just paying workers to close lanes with orange cones but not actually fix any potholes. Hat tip to the best bumper sticker spotted in traffic: B.O. Stinks!


We finally rolled into town in the afternoon and decided to stop for a late lunch before meeting up with the family. Tyler is the world’s best navigator…basically if he has been some place one time, he will know his way around there for the rest of his life, and Newport was no exception. He expertly steered us to the charming downtown, where our dining consensus was Panera. Tyler ordered the lobster roll (which, incidentally, is NOT on the menu at Savannah area Paneras; when in Rome, I guess) and it was a thing of beauty!

IMG_0385 Just look at that whole claw!! 

The dressing was light and lemony, not laden in mayo. I could maybe even learn to eat lobster rolls whilst summering here forever more. 

We passed a kiosk selling Black Dog wares and decided to replace the adorable souvenir shirt Jack had from our trip to Martha’s Vineyard when he was a toddler (maybe it makes more sense to say that he was adorable in it rather than that a grey t-shirt was adorable?!). His tastes are more sophisticated these days, so naturally he went right for the spiral tie-dye. This picture below was taken later in our trip, and you can see perhaps the only time that Maddy the dog was tuckered out.

IMG_0467  Screen Shot 2015-09-15 at 9.21.40 AM

Once we were all settled into Tyler’s brother and sister-in-law’s beautifully quintessential Newport home, complete with the perfect front porch for enjoying the perfect weather, we visited and caught up for a bit before heading out to dinner with Jack’s three adult cousins (Ryan, Dylan, and Jordan) in tow, who couldn’t have been sweeter to him. We had an amazing dinner at a favorite place of our hosts and Jack couldn’t wait to ride home separately with his cousins and learn some of their skateboarding tips.

skateboarding with the cousns IMG_0390

Unfortunately for Jack, he inherited his mother’s sense of balance and utter lack of grace. 

We adults took the scenic route home, stopping to take in the beautiful view.

taking our purses to the beach

You never know when you’ll need your purse while out climbing sea rocks!

purse on the rocks

See, Jill’s showing off her purse, too!


Shane is really a nice guy even though it appears he is letting Jill slide down the rocks unassisted…

We arrived home to Dylan saying, “Mom, don’t be mad…” and Ryan jumping in with “He needs to go to the ER!” Apparently, Dylan took a pretty sweet spill on the skate board and busted his head open. Although he demurred any need for medical attention, Shane insisted and Dylan ended up with 12 staples in his head! Good teachable moment for Jack: always wear your helmet!

After that excitement, we crashed hard and fell into a wonderfully soft bed, lulled to sleep by a combination of sheer exhaustion and being able to sleep with the windows open-heavenly!

The next day dawned beautiful, cool, and most importantly, humidity-free. Here is a pic of the rarely-seen-in-nature-with-her-hair-down creature known as me (note the boy still carrying around his yo-yo!):


We were up and at ’em, making our way towards downtown on foot to work up an appetite for the Hungry Monkey. As a fan of monkeys in general, this place definitely got my stamp of approval and the waitress was duly impressed with Jack’s manners and ability to order breakfast like the confident boss he is. Bonus points awarded by Jack for the bathroom air freshener: 


We continued our trek to the waterfront and booked passage on a fabulous schooner, the Madeleine. We had about 30 minutes to kill before sailing, so Tyler, Shane, and I stopped at an al fresco pub for a pre-noon beer because, why not? Aunt Jill took Jack to a nearby arcade, where he proceeded to win enough tickets to win pink fuzzy dice like in Regular Show.

IMG_0428 Tyler is very good at composing pix!

Seeing Newport by water was amazing and the crew of three were wonderfully informative and attentive. One of the deckhands even spent time teaching Jack to tie several types of nautical rope knots once we were underway.


our captain El Capitan view from the sail boat  IMG_0433

boys on the boat

Of course, Jack being a boy and all, he needed to check out the “head” below deck.

IMG_0435  Peace sign of approval.

The famous Newport Jazz Festival was going on, so we even got to enjoy some of the music floating over the water as we passed the sold-out crowd.

I am a sucker for any kind of old-timey cut out were you stick your head in and get your picture taken and there was no shortage of opportunities for us to do so in and around Newport.

This one had a little donation box on the back for Seaman’s Bethel.IMG_0419 

This was at a restaurant on the water–we didn’t actually eat there but I couldn’t resist the photo opp…I tried to make it look like Jack is shaking Tyler the lobster’s claw in the 2nd pic. Who knows how much longer he will continue to humor me?

IMG_0421IMG_0423 (1)

Then it was back to the house for more porch time and an amazing dinner of smoked pulled pork, chicken wings, and more. Tyler’s other brother Tiger and his wife and kids joined us for the fun. So neat to see nieces and nephews becoming adults!


The next day we went out to lunch at a local dive called Flo’s Clam Shack where we enjoyed the view from the 2nd floor and came across yet another photo opp:

20150725_121320 (1) Hmmm, I think I like Ty as a blond…

They even had fabulous lobster-shaped pagers!! Side note, I will endeavor to pronounce it “lob-stah” if my dream of summering in Newport becomes a reality.

lovin the lobstahsjpg

Then we walked off our lunch at Brenton State Park, where lots of people fly kites on the bluff. What a beautiful site! Plus, there’s a Del’s frozen lemonade truck there, so you know we had to enjoy some of their frozen, slushy deliciousness! Jack loved climbing over the giant rocks and helping Aunt Jill look for bits of sea glass. This time I was smart enough to leave my purse in the car. Ty even donned a long sleeve shirt–unheard of for July back home on Tybee!

IMG_0477  IMG_0468IMG_0476  IMG_0472

All in all, it was a fabulous trip, full of fun and relaxation just like a vacation should be. I think next summer, we’ll fly instead, and maybe leave Jack behind for a week of “cousins camp.” It’s never too early to get him used to the idea of visiting us at our summer home there.

Summer Fun = Shoot the ‘Hooch

We spent the weekend in Helen, GA, a re-created Alpine village in the north Georgia mountains about a 5 hours’ drive north of Tybee (really more like 6-7 hours when you factor in a gas stop, pee breaks, stopping to eat, construction en route, Atlanta traffic, etc.). This is the 4th year we’ve gone there and we always rent the same (awesome!) cabin about half-way up a mountain in Cleveland, GA. What makes it especially awesome is the beautiful knotty pine throughout; big, back porch with jacuzzi and outdoor fireplace; indoor fireplace with floor-to-lofted-ceiling stone hearth; two master bedrooms with their own bathrooms plus an additional half-bath (for those of you doing the math at home, that’s one bathroom per family member, not including Krypto, as opposed to one tiny bathroom for all to share on Tybee); a loft with pool table (Jack has mad skillz); and a fridge with ice and water dispenser (I know, it’s the little things in life…). We usually go up in the fall to get a taste of “fall foliage” and cooler temperatures, along with corn mazes and other autumnal fun, but decided to go up in the summer and “shoot the ‘Hooch,” which refers to tubing through Helen on the Chattahoochee River.

When I was a kid, my parents would pile my brothers and I in my dad’s Lincoln town car and we would likewise head north about the same distance to Pelican Lake in upstate Wisconsin. We stayed at a family friend’s “wooden cabin” that was really more like a lodge in scale and the adults would drink and play gin rummy while us kids jumped off the dock into the chilly lake for hours on end. Evening fun included looking at the stars and driving to the dump to see if we could spy a bear (we never did). The highlight of the trip was always a whitewater rafting adventure on the Eagle River, which included the rare opportunity to wear our tennis shoes in the water for traction on the rocky, slippery riverbed. We would float for hours and find a sandy shoal to beach our raft, devouring sandwiches and cokes from a cooler and waiting 30 minutes after eating to swim in the cool, clear water.

I say all of this by way of explaining my expectations for tubing in Helen. Granted, I knew floating in a tube would be vastly different than whitewater rafting, but what I didn’t anticipate were the HUNDREDS of other people simultaneously floating down river with us. There are a couple of restaurants right on the river where you can sit and watch the tubers go by, and we had done just that on our previous visits in the fall. So, duh, of course there would be exponentially fewer people tubing when the water temperature dips to hypothermia-inducing ranges. But on a Saturday in July? It was literally a sea of humanity as far as the eye could see. Having said that, it was an interesting mix of people. It’s very family-friendly in that no alcohol is allowed, and we went early enough in the morning that I think we actually missed the really big crowds. I saw all ages: toddlers snoozing in their tubes tethered to a parent; one high school aged-looking girl valiantly attempting to read a paperback book; college-aged coeds clearly sneaking mixed drinks in their allowable water bottles; what was probably a big church youth group or maybe a family reunion with matching t-shirts stopping to swim in a particularly deep area. The water wasn’t low enough to necessitate walking in shallower areas, but it wasn’t exactly high either. We didn’t purchase the optional sticks to push off shallow areas, but most people who had them were more than happy to help out cheapskates like me who occasionally got stuck, usually because I was careened to the side by them in the first place, as they were tethered together into an ungodly large blob of tubes.

The rules stated that no more than two tubes could be tethered together, but clearly we were the only ones following the rules. So Tyler and Jack tethered their tubes and I drifted nearby for a while…until suddenly, I no longer was. With the exception of showering and using the bathroom at home, I am rarely alone (and even in those two examples, there is always a chance that the dog or another family member will barge in nonetheless). I have a fairly long commute to work, but driving requires attention, so I don’t really count that as alone time. Our dog is one who occasionally forgets how to dog and hates driving in a car, so I spent the ride up to Helen with a nervous dog in my lap and a bored 10-year old scootching as close to me as he could. Such comfortable travel! photo (32)

But suddenly on the river, I was literally just going with the flow. I laid back on my tube, getting slightly dizzy as the current spun me around and around in circles. I occasionally looked up to spy Jack’s fluorescent orange swim shirt and Ty’s bright orange ball cap, content knowing they were tethered together. I closed my eyes, listening to snippets of conversations in different languages all around me, summer bugs buzzing in the trees on the river banks, and birds flitting about overhead. Just as I started to doze off, I recognized the excited shout of my one and only son, “Mom! We’re right here! Grab my hand!” We floated together as a threesome for a bit until Jack decided he wanted to be on his own again and, just like that, I was on my own to simply go with the flow.

All in all, it was a great experience, although I think one that doing once is plenty. Of course, I had nothing but “nice” flip flops that I didn’t want to risk getting wet, so on a couple of occasions I pushed off the rocks with my feet or got off my tube to dislodge from being stuck, so my feet hurt by the end of the line. How could I not have known to bring tennis shoes for the occasion? And did I mention the bugs? Ty got stung by a wasp in the hot tub and there was a spider literally the size of a kumquat hanging out in its web on the back porch. I think we’ll stick to enjoying Helen in the cooler seasons!

Getting a Massage in my 40s vs Getting a Massage in my 20s

In my 20s, I was somewhat squeamish about getting naked before a complete stranger. As a mother, I can attest to having long ago lost any sense of modesty upon giving birth, so in my 40s, my naked-ness before a stranger is no big deal.

In my 20s, I felt completely entitled to anything I could do to treat myself. In my 40s, the thought of dropping $80 plus a tip and finding a couple of hours’ free time for the privilege of doing so is laughable. Thank goodness for Groupon!

In my 20s, I would completely relax, to the extent that I actually fell asleep once despite the jack-hammers tearing up the sidewalk just outside the spa’s entrance. In my 40s, all I could think about on a recent appointment was where did the masseuse get an hours’ worth of pan flute music? Was it a cd? Can you stream that on Pandora or Spotify? Would it be rude to ask her to change the station?

In my 20s, I would relinquish my body to the pain/pleasure of working out the various kinks, the short jabs digging in and the smooth strokes releasing the tension, thinking “this hurts so good.” In my 40s, all that poking and pushing and pulling just plain hurts.

In my 20s, a masseuse was most likely to remark on the tightness of my calves due to my running habit. In my 40s, a masseuse is most likely to ask whether or not I’ve had the moles on my back looked at by a dermatologist.

So I have a new business idea: a combo masseuse/dermatologist. Just imagine being able to relax while simultaneously having suspect moles circled for future removal in one easy appointment, enjoying uninterrupted pan flute music while you do so.