They say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.  Like banging your head against a wall.  Or year after year, thinking that just because they started selling pumpkins at the grocery store, the heat will break so I can wear sweaters and boots again.  This year will mark my 9th fall in Southern California and I am slowly but surely learning that the transition into autumn is a little more subtle at the beach.  It begins after Labor Day, when the crowds clear and tourists leave town.  I’ll be pleasantly surprised, for example, when we can get a table at Nick’s or find parking downtown.  Then the quality of the light starts to change.  Again, this is gradual. By October I might note that there’s such chill in the air at dinnertime that we need to shut all the doors and windows. My experience also tells me that there will be another heat wave, but it will be brief and temporary (and hopefully won’t fall on Thanksgiving or Christmas Day).  I guess you could say that my expectations seem more manageable this year.

And in the spirit of accepting the reality of the stubborn seasonal shift in Southern California, I am going to make appropriate choices and transition patiently.  Instead of reaching for those oh-so-tempting pumpkin branches at Trader Joe’s this weekend, I decided to hold off, opting for a softer palate that still said “fall” to me.


At $2.99, $ 3.99, and $2.49, respectively, my choices hardly put a dent in my weekly grocery bill.


Love these Craspedias, whatever they are.


I started with the fullest bouquet, placing them in a vase with about 4-5 inches of water.


Then I added the next fullest bouquet, spacing them evenly throughout the arrangement.


Finished by peppering with the wispy yellow balls to add a pop of color.


Voila!  NBD.  Happy fall ya’ll!!!

Flowers NOT .com

I cannot be the only one who is sick of spending $100+ to send flowers to someone only to have them text a “thank you” pic of the shittiest, smallest bouquet imaginable. Did the florist not hear my request:  absolutely no baby’s breath or carnations??? Flower shops are seemingly worse than airlines these days with their hidden fees and costs. “Oh you wanted water in that vase? That’s an extra $20!”   A few weekends ago a very dear friend of mine endured a traumatic incident with her 15-month-old son. While baby boy was ultimately fine, mama will take years (if not a lifetime), to recover from the PTSD. My first thought was to send flowers, but that was immediately followed by my second thought, which was that they could never look as good as a bouquet I assembled myself (at least I have no self-esteem issues). And since she lives only 15 minutes away and I’m on maternity leave with a baby who loves to fall asleep in the car, I figured why the eff not.  I grabbed a vase, a ribbon, and scissors and drove straight to Trader Joe’s. The local manager had previously confirmed that their flower deliveries come in the morning, but check with your TJ’s and make sure you have fresh pickings.
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Be creative.  Think of fun color combos, though sometimes less is for sure more.
 Nothing wrong with fresh hydrangeas. I have them on my kitchen table practically year-round.
I grabbed 2 bouquets of hydrangeas (one white, one blue) and some “fillers” and was on my way to the parking lot to assemble.
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 Nothing screams “unbalanced” like a woman in Lulus chopping flowers in the Crystal Cove Trader Joe’s parking lot at 8 a.m. while her baby cries in the stroller.  I wish I had a tee that said “I’m on Maternity Leave.” I want everyone to know I am not that Orange County housewife.
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Threw that sh*t together, poured some bottled water in the vase and then we gots to go!!!!
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Oh, this ole’ bouquet????  Pretty sure it’s 1,000 times better than anything I could have bought on and it probably didn’t even cost as much as the delivery fee I would have otherwise paid.
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Here’s some more inspo from other bouquets I’ve put together for less than $20:
NBD, right ya’ll????????

New Year, New Soup

The truth is that I’ve been making this lentil and sausage soup for years.  It is so easy, flavorful, and nutritious…i.e. a perfect way to kick off 2017 by feeling healthy and productive whenever you make it (which is almost weekly in our house).

Like most classic recipes, it starts by chopping an onion.

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Saute over medium heat in a large pot with a little olive oil until onions start to soften.  Then add sausage, squeezing it out of its castings.  (Random side note:  my husband hates this part and won’t participate, but I find it oddly satisfying).

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We use these Jennie-O hot turkey sausages, but I’m sure there are organic ones at Wholefoods that my mom will tell me about as soon as she reads this post.

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Discard castings and begin to break up sausage with a wooden spoon and mix with the onions, browning slowly.  The natural fats will help keep the onions from sticking to the pan.

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Meanwhile, on a separate burner, fill a pot with water and bring to a boil.  Add one full bag of green lentils and cover, reducing heat to medium-high.

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Now back to the sausage.  After about 5 minutes you should have a mixture that looks something like this.  Continue cooking until all meat is brown. Then drain any access fat.  I like to turn off the heat and use a paper towel to soak up any fat, but whatever method works for you.

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Turn back on heat to medium and add 3 celery stalks and a three carrots sticks, cleaned, peeled and chopped.

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Stir and saute until soft.  Then add 2 cloves of minced garlic and season with salt, pepper, and some red pepper flakes (optional: if you like it spicy, which I always do).

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Pull out a bag of pre-washed fresh spinach.

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Add the entire bag to the sausage/onion mixture.

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Cook until it begins to wilt.

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Add 2 cans of diced tomatoes and one can of beef broth.  Stir in with wilted spinach.

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At this point your lentils should be relatively soft.  They will continue cooking in the soup, but boiling separately beforehand will substantially reduce your cook time.  When you can pierce one easily with a fork, drain in a strainer.

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Add to soup.  Warning:  It will look like way too many lentils.  Every time I make this soup, I have the same thought, but then I stir them in and invariably the consistency is always perfect.

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Cook for another 20-30 minutes to let the flavors blend.  Salt to taste.  When you’re ready to eat, serve in a large bowl sprinkled with parmesan.

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Lentil & Sausage Soup:

1 lb. (package) hot Italian turkey sausage

1 large onion, chopped

About 3 celery stalks, chopped

About 2 carrots peeled and chopped

2 cloves of garlic, minced

2 (14 oz.) cans of diced tomatoes

1 bag pre-washed baby spinach

1 can beef broth

1 bag of green lentils

Salt & pepper

Red pepper flakes (optional)

Saute chopped onion in a large pot with a bit of olive oil.  When tender, add turkey sausage, removing from castings.  Break up sausage with a wooden spoon and continue cooking.  Meanwhile, fill a separate pot with water, boil, and pour in bag of lentils.  Reduce heat, cover, and let lentils cook for about 20 minutes, or until soft.  Drain fat from turkey sausage and onion mixture.  Add chopped celery, carrot, minced garlic, and season with salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes.  Add entire bag of spinach and cook until wilted.  Stir in with beef broth and canned tomatoes. When lentils are soft, drain in a strainer and add to soup. Stir and continue cooking, covered, for another 30 minutes or so on low heat.  Serve with parmesan cheese and ideally a glass of red wine.





Last Minute Holiday Gift Guide

WTF?  How is it already almost Christmas Eve??  Every year I start the holiday season with the best intentions of getting ahead of the chaos curve and every single year, without fail, I find myself running in circles, chasing my own tail while trying to get it all done.

There always seems to be a neighbor, a colleague, a friend, or a hostess that I have forgotten to get a gift for and I simply cannot bring myself to give a box of pre-wrapped chocolates or worse, a sad little poinsettia.

Do not have a meltdown.  You absolutely can and will get it all done.  All you need to do is press the reset button and take a deep breath (maybe followed by a shot of peppermint vodka?).

Here are just a few quick last minute holiday ideas so you aren’t forced to re-gift or show up to a gathering empty-handed.


Rosemary:  festive, fragrant, and nearly impossible to kill.  Not to mention cheap!! These organic plants were $1.99 each at Trader Joe’s.


Plant in a simple pot.


Tie with a festive bow, a trinket (think: an ornament, a cinnamon stick, or a sprig of holly), a gift tag, and voila, hostess gift dilemma solved.


A small bouquet of holiday cheer will always be well-received.  Grab a pair of scissors, head outside, and cut some festive twigs, leaves, branches, holly, etc. from your yard or garden.  Pop them in a mason jar, wrap with twine, ribbon, and a cute gift tag.


If you live in Southern California like me and you don’t have access to much other than succulents and palm fronds, then swing by Trader Joe’s or Wholefoods and pick up some inexpensive white flowers and red berry branches.   Cut and assemble into little mason jars and tie with ribbon.


If arranging flowers/plants is not your thing, you can never go wrong with a scented holiday candle. These ones from Nordstrom are pretty enough that they don’t even need a box or wrapping paper.  I just stuck them in a clear plastic bag and tied them with ribbon and a gift tag.


And of course, tried and true, it’s nearly impossible to go wrong with a bottle of wine or booze (unless your recipient is pregnant or otherwise sober).  These reusable carrying bags were $3.99 each at Home Goods and I personalized them with gift tags.

While it is very true that it’s the thought that counts, I would argue that the presentation counts more.


And on that note, I’d like to end this post by sharing a picture of my signature holiday paper this year.  I am OBSESSED.  So different from the basic reds and greens of the holiday season.

Happiest Holidays to you and yours!







Pumpkin Remix

Do you remember the pumpkin bread recipe I posted last Thanksgiving?
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Well this year I decided to mix it up and instead of using loaf pans, I poured the same easy, delicious batter into muffin tins, baking at 350 for half the time (about 30 minutes).


I was worried the moisture of this bread might be lost in the smaller size, but I’m delighted to report they are every bit as scrumptious.


I popped them right out of the tray and let them cool for about an hour before adding my finishing touches, which of course involved me hiking to the one and only deciduous tree in Southern California.  The struggle is real.


Fortunately my husband gets me completely and didn’t bat an eye when I returned home with a shirt full of dead leaves after working out in the land of palm trees.


I placed the muffins in an individual sized clear cellophane treat sacks and tied with twine and a few of the leaves I’d collected.


What a great little treat to leave on someone’s desk at work, bring to your hairdresser, or send the kids to school with.



Pumpkin Muffins

Mix together well with a fork in a large bowl:

3 1/2 cups flour

3 tsp baking powder

1 1/2 tsp salt

1 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp all spice

3 cups sugar

In a separate bowl, mix together:

1 can pure pumpkin (NOT pie mix)

4 eggs

2/3 cup water

1 cup vegetable oil

Mix wet ingredients into dry, ideally using a hand mixer to work out all the lumps.  Pour into a cup cake pan with paper baking cups (I used classic white ones- my favorite).   Bake at 350 for about a half hour or until a toothpick comes out clean. This should make about 24-36 muffins.


A Fall Staple: Roasted Root Vegetables

Even just purchasing the ingredients for this dish evokes inner fall feelings.  Think dark evenings, warm fires, red wine, and candlelight.   My husband and I made these roasted root vegetables the other evening and they were so easy and satisfying, I had to share.


I wish I could say we had strolled hand-in-hand to our local farmer’s market to buy our veggies, but let’s be honest, I found myself at Ralph’s an hour before dinner.  We opted for parsnips, turnips, Brussels sprouts, and carrots, but use whatever root vegetables are fresh, seasonal, and most importantly, sound good to you (Barefoot Contessa also uses butternut squash and sweet potato, for example).


Wash and peel the parsnips, carrots, and turnips.


Cut into roughly the same size pieces, about an inch long.


Wash and halve the Brussels sprouts, cutting off and discarding the stem, but keeping all the loose leaves, which get crispy and delicious when baking.


Place all cleaned, chopped veggies in a baking dish and drizzle generously with olive oil, kosher salt, and pepper.  Toss with your hands, making sure all pieces are coated well.  Bake in the oven at 425 for about 30 minutes, turning frequently with a spatula throughout the entire bake time.


We served ours with filets and parmesan polenta, but it’s a perfect side for any fall dish.  If you want to make it a little more flavorful, sprinkle with fresh chopped parsley or rosemary before roasting veggies.


Roasted Root Vegetables

Wash, peel, and cut your veggies of choice (Brussels sprouts, turnips, carrots, parsnips, sweet potato, and butternut squash are all wonderful). Place all cleaned, chopped veggies in a baking dish and drizzle generously with olive oil, kosher salt, and pepper.  Toss with your hands, making sure all pieces are coated well.  Bake in the oven at 425 for about 30 minutes, turning frequently with a spatula throughout the entire bake time.






Suns Out Buns Out

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As we fast approach the end of summer, what better way to revel in its final days than with some southern-style pulled pork sliders?  And the best part is that this dinner literally takes 5 minutes of prep (plus 8 hours of slow cooking while your house fills with the most delicious aromas).

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You’ll need a pork tenderloin or two, a couple of onions, and beef broth.

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Quarter the onion and pull in to pieces.

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Spread half the onions loosely at the bottom of the slow cooker to create a bed for the pork.

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Remove tenderloins from packaging and rinse under water. This is inherently a very lean meat so there shouldn’t be much fat and what little there is should be left for flavor (i.e. don’t trim it).  Season pork with salt, pepper, onion salt, and garlic powder.

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Place remaining onions on top of the pork and pour in the beef broth.  Cover and cook on low for 8 hours.

When the pork is finished cooking it will literally fall apart with a fork.  Drain the broth and onions from the slow cooker, shred the pork with a fork, and add your favorite barbecue sauce.  Cover again on high for another 10 minutes, or until the sauce is warm.  There are many barbecue sauces to choose from at the market and of course, you can even make your own, but this blog is “No Big Deal,” so to that effect we’ll keep it simple.


This Kraft original is quite good and kid friendly.  If you want a kick, add some cayenne pepper.


King’s Hawaiian sweet rolls are the only way to go. Cut them in half and warm them.

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Assemble sandwiches and serve with your favorite summer sides.  NBD.

Pulled Pork Sliders:

1-2 packages pork tenderloin (for a family of 4, one package is plenty)

2 cans beef broth

1-2 onions

Salt and pepper

Onion salt

Garlic Powder

Sweet rolls

BBQ sauce

Pickles (optional)

Quarter onions and pull apart in pieces.  Cover bottom of the slow cooker with half of the onions.  Rinse pork and place on top of the onions.  Sprinkle with salt, pepper, onion salt, and garlic powder.  Cover with remaining onions and pour in beef broth.  Cook on low for 8 hours.  When finished, drain onions and beef broth.  Shred pork with a fork.  Pour in a bottle of your favorite barbecue sauce and cook on high until the sauce is warm (about 10 minutes).  Assemble into sliders.  Serve with a pickle and your favorite sides.


Liberty, Justice, & a Cute Table for All

Now I love me some Fourth of Juleeeeeeeee.  The whole ritual just screams summer.  Burgers, beer, corn on the cob, baked beans, (hopefully) sunshine…just some good ole American daytime fun that carries well into the evening and ends with a bang of fireworks.  Sign. Me. Up.

However, anyone who knows me at all also knows that I take serious issue with plastic utensils and paper plates (curiously, Solo cups don’t offend me, unless you’re pouring champagne in them).  My only problem with the Fourth is that it can border on being trashy if you’re not careful.  So let’s make Merica’ proud and do her justice with a classy tablescape.

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The table runner here is actually a scarf that I bought several years ago for less than $20.   But really you could even buy a few yards of navy star fabric at Jo-Ann Fabric and fold it and press it into a runner with an iron.

Screen Shot 2016-07-03 at 9.28.42 AMLike this gem at 3.99 per yard!  #Nobrainer

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Don’t be afraid to mix patterns and textures.  I found these wooden starfish for $2 each and decided they’d be the perfect way to incorporate stars since we live at the beach.

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With respect to flowers, less is more.  I picked up these red dahlias at Trader Joe’s for $3.99 and dispersed them in small, simple bud vases.

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But white hydrangeas really do represent the American summer dream and you might even be lucky enough to have some in your backyard or neighborhood.   When I lived in San Francisco there was a gorgeous hydrangea bush in my courtyard filled with lush blooms year-round and I would often sneak down after dark to clip a few for my apartment.

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Keep your eyes open when looking for Fourth of July decor.  Michael’s, Target,  and Jo-Ann Fabric all have diamonds hidden in the rough.  These pillows for example, were buried in the Dollar Spot section at Target (though everything I like there always seem to be in the $3 bin,  which is really just so typical).

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Placed on a chair it’s kind of cute, right?

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***Title cred:  Chad Yu & Kellie Reince





10-Minute Fig & Goat Cheese Crostini

Fig.  Figment.  Figure.  My sister and I had a lot of fun trying to come up with a title for this blog post.  Some of our finer creations included “A ‘Fig’ment of Your Imagination” or “Even an Idiot Can ‘Fig’ure This Out” and of course my personal favorite, “Gettin’ Figgy With It.”  But in the end, the truth prevailed, and nothing sounded quite as catchy as the name of recipe itself.

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There are two seasons for domestic fresh figs; the first or “breba” season is the first few weeks in June. The second or “new wood” season typically runs from August through October (thank you, Google).

Whenever I start to see figs appearing in the grocery store, I think of warm summer nights and impromptu gatherings. Friends or neighbors popping over for a drink while we effortlessly throw a piece of meat on the grill.  And while we don’t want to make it a big deal, we also know we want the evening to be perfect.  Trust me, this appetizer will set the tone for the entire night, and perhaps even the entire summer.

Stop at the store and pick up figs, goat cheese, a baguette, and a balsamic glaze (Trader Joe’s makes a great one that is excellent for $2.99).


Preheat your oven to a broil.  We have 3 settings for our broiler and I usually do 2, or medium.  Wash and quarter the figs.


Thinly slice the baguette.


Cover each slice with a generous smear of goat cheese.


Place on a baking sheet lined with foil.


Cover with fig pieces.


Drizzle with balsamic glaze and broil for about 3-4 minutes.  WATCH THEM VERY CLOSELY!!!  You do not want to get distracted and leave the kitchen or they will burn.

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Voila!  NBD.


Every Rose Has Its Thorn

So here’s the thing: the thought of long stem red roses, baby’s breath, and a decadent, ornate vase literally makes me want to throw up in my mouth.  I would rather be the recipient of a sole, dead dandelion (and at least then, I could make a wish).

I will never forget circa 2006 when my girlfriend and I were living in San Francisco and her then boyfriend sent her a bouquet of red roses from for Valentine’s Day.  Their relationship ended shortly thereafter (obviously).

Since then, I’ve been steering clear of roses altogether, but a few weeks ago I was enjoying coffee in our garden and the scent of our fresh, fragrant roses took me back to a time when I didn’t have such disdain for this innocent, beautiful flower.  After all, it’s not the poor rose’s fault Hallmark exploited it.

So I decided to give them a go, and I’ve since concluded that they are perfectly lovely (and indeed classy) when cut short.

You’ll start with a bouquet from Ralph’s or some other god-awful chain (and hopefully you won’t pay more than $9.99 for a dozen).


Start by pulling apart the roses and one by one, picking off the leaves and clipping the stem.


Make sure the bottom of the rose hits the top of the vase.


Keep going, one by one placing them in the vase.


Eventually you’ll end up with a pile of leaves and thorns.


And a beautiful, small bouquet that looks something like this.


So sweet it kind of makes my heart hurt.