Sundays with Starbucks: Reminiscing about Travels Near and Far

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Remember photo albums? You know, actual printed photos put in a book that you can flip through?
With the onset of digital everything, physical ANYTHING is hard to come by. On the one hand, I think it's better on the environment as well as space planning for your home. After all, who needs more clutter?

But the issue I have at my age is that there is a whole 20+ years of my life that's sitting in boxes and boxes of photos and nestled in photo albums in my home library. Most of my "pre-baby" traveling with hubster is documented in photo albums and slides. Slides? Most of my honeymoon is in boxes of slides! Who is going to look at slides in the era of Instagram?

SO one of my favorite things to do on a Sunday lately is sit in my chair in the library with a cup of coffee and flip through a photo album or weed through a photo box. I pick one or two to scan for TBT on Facebook, and enjoy reminiscing about loved ones and adventures. I lament youth and wish I was as skinny as I was years ago when I thought I was fat (what was my problem!?) and count my blessings. It's becoming a nice tradition.

Today I ran across photos of a trip to Napa Valley in California. Friends we were traveling with were very tied to the wine industry and scored some great lodging and exclusive tours. One of those trips involved a picnic day on Mt. Veeder. I looked through some stunning photos of the Mt. Veeder Winery. As its name describes, the vineyard is on a mountain. The grapes lined the sides of the precarious slopes and I remember wondering how they harvested the grapes during the crush without falling. The mountain had various micro climates and very fertile soil giving the wine an amazing, complex and unique nature. We ate a picnic lunch in the late summer sun under a giant oak tree and walked around the vines. The winery was small and only made a small amount of cases each year. It was a magical day. Of course we bought a few bottles to bring home. And when we get a chance to buy it now and sip that luscious wine, we get transported to the place where it comes from. I envision the grape vines lining the slopes as clouds hug the sides. I remember the hot sun towards the top, and the cool air as we walked down. That mountain is where it all started. And we had a chance to experience it, just like the grapes.

The best things have deep and magical beginnings that form and shape what they are. How ironic that today I was tasting a Starbucks single origin coffee from Mt. Ramelau. It's one of the highest peaks in East Timor-a far away place in the Asia-Pacific. As most coffees from this area are rich and full bodied, the temperate conditions and rich soil on and around this mountain create a mild and smooth yet spicy flavor profile.

Mountains are magical things-whether it's wine or coffee. Their unique one-of-a-kind place makes for one-of-a-kind taste experiences. Treasure those experiences. There are so few of them. And if you need to pull out an old, frayed photo album to help relive those experiences, so be it! Photo albums are like some nice clothes-they want to be taken out once in a while.

Please note: Starbucks Timor Mt. Ramelau and the fabulous pour over contraption with filters was provided by Starbucks. All thoughts, opinions and obsessions about Starbucks coffee are completely my own. Thanks! #starbucks #MtRamelau @starbucks #singleorigins

Gardening: Spring chores are done, now the fun begins!

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Hubster and I have been kicking butt in the garden the past few weekends. It's hard to get motivated, and sometimes the weather doesn't help. But once you get over the hump of getting out there and clearing out and tending your first bed-the rest comes easily.

This is what I've been up to-and maybe a good guide for you to keep in mind.

First, get out your Canna that you've been wintering inside, and figure out where you will be planting them.

Peonies need some love. Clear out the dead debris around the new shoots, then add blood meal, bone meal and Epsom salt around the drip line. If you want to stake them or put in a wire structure, place it in now around the shoots. I usually wait until the peonies are fuller and stake them. Here is a how-to video on prepping peonies for spring.

Next clear out the winter mulch you planted around roses. Prune according to the 3 D's (Dead, Diseased, Damaged). After you prune that away, clean up the shrub by cutting canes to tidy it up. Add some rose food along the drip line. For a how-to video on caring for roses in the spring, watch this! 

I cleaned out all the beds from dead leaves and debris. We reset the self watering system, and sprinkled Epsom salt all over. It greens up the leaves and makes them wider and stronger.

 Rake off leaves and debris off of walkways and pavers. Then with a power washer or the "jet" setting on your hose sprayer, clean off the dirt on your pavers until they gleam!

Take off any protective tarps or covering off your garden furniture. Sweep off debris then lightly spray it down with the hose to clear off dirt. Let dry, then put cushions on it! (At this point, I grabbed an iced tea and sat in my shade bed on my rocker. Mamma needed a break!)

Stake and prune any climbing shrubs This is my climbing Japanese hydrangea. I tied new growth to continue to train it on the trellis, then cut dead wood off. I gave it a nice helping of Muir Acid. Also find your hydrangeas and give them Muir Acid too. 

If you have a hydrangea that grows fresh shoots from the bottom and not on old wood, you can prune off dead wood. If you have a hydrangea that grows off of old wood, leave the shrub alone until you see what's blooming and growing. Prune the shrub after flowers fade. If you wait too long to prune you may cut off flower buds set for next spring, so be careful and diligent.

Azaleas and Rhododendrons need some Muir Acid. DON'T PRUNE! Prune these bushes after they flower. If you prune in the spring you will be cutting off flower buds.

While you are cleaning out beds, pay attention to what has died and what has come back. Journal as you go and see the empty spots that you have not been able to fill out-like this corner in my shade bed. My budget never extends to this corner, BUT NOT THIS YEAR! This year is the year I am finishing the shade bed. Sketch as you go and start visualizing what you may want to replace, fill or move.

Buy some inexpensive cold tolerant annuals to add some color to you deck or patio. Bring out plants that you have been wintering inside to get them used to being outside again. See that spindly plant to the right? That's my herbal rose geranium! I cut it back and will soon repot it to give it some life over the summer.

After the beds are all tended to and cleaned, and the window boxes cleaned and mixed with compost and peat, it's time to go shopping for some flowers!! The fun began this weekend. I got plants for the boxes around the deck and container pots. Next trip I'll get some shrubs and perennials. We also prepped our vegetable garden with compost and peat. We then planted our veggie plants and seeds.

I hope you are getting your tushie out there! It's hard work but my goodness, it's so healing to get dirt under your fingernails and create beauty on your little plot of land. Especially after a rough winter we had! It's wonderful to be outside in fresh air. And the hard work you do now will pay off in July! Give your garden love and it will love you back.

Sundays with Starbucks: Enjoying Mother's Day and Thinking About "Origins"

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Mother's Day comes every year, and we have settled into a tradition in our home where breakfast is served to me with a steamy cup of coffee, a vase full of flowers, fresh fruit, and whatever I want on the T.V. (Right now I have a Harry Potter movie on-I know. But I am a quirky girl.) It turns out to be a lazy, delicious morning.

Today I am enjoying a Starbucks "single-origin" brew from Guatemala called Laguna de Ayarza. It's spicy aroma and citrus punch comes from one place far away. A place rich in volcanic soil paired with warm days with cool nights to create a very special coffee bean that grows slowly developing a complex flavor profile. The characters and traits of that one, exotic, faraway place is what creates all the subtle nuance of this mellow, spicy-chocolate coffee. It got me thinking of origins-our beginnings and our roots-and how Motherhood is the origin of us all.

This morning, as I await my fancy Mother's Day pancakes, I've really enjoyed my Facebook feed. Countless people are sharing pictures of their moms, their children, their aunts and Godparents. Facebook is so full of love and memories today, some bittersweet, some funny and silly. But one thing threads all these moments together, and that is motherhood and the powerful connecting thread of a mother's love. Today it's not just about moms, it's all about love. 

It's how humanity continues, day in and day out. It's how the animal kingdom continues. Mother's give birth to life, and we love our fledglings until our dying breath with a ferocious mama-bear love that at times can suffocate them. We all come from a mother's love, and flourish there. It's our one place of origin. It's our touchstone, and it connects us all. It makes us who we are, with all that complexity and flavor. It's a powerful thing.

So today, bask in the glow of love. You may not be a mother, but you came from a mother. I also believe that we all have many different mothers. There are aunts and Godparents and grandparents, neighbors, friends and teachers that all are there to love us and give us roots, give us a "single-origin" from which to grow and flourish. Celebrate them. Celebrate you. Celebrate Love.

Happy Mother's  Love Day.

And to my pookie pie who made me a mother 12 years ago, Thank you for the best journey yet. I hope I am deserving of the gift of YOU.

Please note: Starbucks Laguna de Ayarza and the fabulous pour over contraption with filters was provided by Starbucks. All thoughts, opinions and obsessions about Starbucks coffee are completely my own. Thanks! #starbucks #LagunadeAyarza @starbucks #singleorigins

GARDEN VIDEO: How to Prep Your Peonies this Spring

Pin It It's time, gardeners! The weather has been on the cool side in the midwest but the garden isn't waiting for that perfect day-and your plants need some tending. Peonies and roses are my first plants on my to do list. Here, I show you what I do to get nice peonies in May.

Everyone has their own secret garden tips, please share yours with my readers! A happy garden makes the world a better place-really!

Also, I mention roses above. If you also want to know about my tips on rose spring care, I have a step by step video here.

MOMMYHOOD: The Tug and Pull of 12

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Navigating the tween years can be so tricky.

You get through the no-sleep, diaper ridden newborn phase, the toddler tantrum phase and the play ground politics elementary school phase coming out of all of it seemingly unscathed. During the whole journey, this child of yours is practically another bodily appendage, holding your hand on the way to school and wanting you to stay with them at bedtime. They want to read with you, snuggle with you, do everything with you. 

Now I walk into my 12 year old daughter's room and she asks why I am there, with that little bit of edgy attitude. You know the tone? You may recognize it because you had it too, many years ago.
At bedtime, she wants to get her own water and doesn't always want me to tuck her in anymore.
She can't wait to get out of my car at school drop off.

As she pulls away from me, I try and stay close. After all, isn't this the phase that I should be knowing what she's doing, who she is hanging out with and talking to? Isn't this the precarious phase where bad influences can prove disastrous for my daughter? I also...well...I miss her. But when I push into her life, she often pushes back. A few months ago, I was at my wit's end.

I finally sat down to talk to her. The conversation went like this:
"I just want you to know, I want to respect your privacy. And I am so used to you wanting me around, doing so much for you and with you. I am having trouble knowing when to be around and when not-and I miss spending so much time with you. If you want to hang out or want me to tuck you in or watch a movie together, I need you to let me know, because I want to be there for you. Otherwise I'll try and give you more space, OK? I know you are becoming your own person and want more independence. I don't want to squash that. Does that sound like a deal? Can you help me know what you need from me by communicating more?"

"Yes, mom."

So now it's a dance. I give her space, nudging in when my instincts tell me I should, and when she surprises me and says, "I want to hang out with you after homework and watch a show." I make sure to drop whatever I was planning on doing and get in that time with her. Sometimes she can't communicate when she needs me, so I'm always on the "mamma-bear-instincts-red-alert" when I feel she may need me to push in. I am in a "Stop, Drop and Be There" mode. If I don't do it now, what will the teen years be like? I will barely see her at all!

I have noticed that because I respect her privacy now she wants to hang out with me more-and tells me so. It has made us closer, and she has a lot less attitude when she talks to me. Maybe because I have made a point to try and understand her and force her to communicate her needs with me? I am not sure. 

SO the dance continues, maybe well into high school.
I push in sometimes but generally follow her lead. We get close when she asks and then she boogies on her own for a while until she asks for another twirl. And when she asks for a dance, I oblige-no matter what. Because I never know when the next dance will happen. You have to be there when they want you or else they may stop asking for a dance with you all together. That's a slippery slope I don't want to go down.

RECIPES: GF/DF/SF Coconut Chocolate Baked Doughnuts (gluten free, dairy free, sugar free, but NOT taste free!)

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My mission this weekend was to try and make my daughter some gluten free chocolate doughnuts that I could also indulge in while staying on the fast metabolism diet (phase 3). This meant trying to bake with natural birch xylitol as well as using coconut oil and almond milk instead of butter. I also needed to use a gluten free flour that had the correct carbs for phase 3. I think the one I used was not totally phase 3 approved but it was the best I could do.

Baking like this seems more of a chemical science experiment than the baking I'm used to. Coconut oil is somewhat solid, but using it as softened butter doesn't quite work the same. Xylitol is also difficult, as it has large granules and doesn't dissolve easily into the batter. SO I wasn't sure how these babies were going to turn out. There were moments when the stuff in the bowl did not look right! But once I am on the train, I am taking it to the station!

I figured my 12 year old, who holds nothing back, would have told me if they needed to be tossed or if we could freeze the extras to eat on busy school day mornings.

Well, she had 4 doughnuts yesterday morning. So, I think they were a success.

If you wish to make these with real sugar, it's an even substitution. You can also use plain flour instead of gluten free.

Baking without dairy and sugar is definitely something I don't want to make a habit of! It's tricky for sure. But these turned out really well. Freeze some for the week like we did so you can balance the Dunkin' Doughnuts runs with healthy options too! Your family will thank you for it!

 GF/DF/SF Coconut Chocolate Baked Doughnuts

1 egg
2/3 cup unsweetened vanilla almond milk or coconut milk
1/2 cup coconut milk, melted
1 tsp. white vinegar
3/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp. Gluten Free baking flour
3/4 cup birch xylitol
1 tsp. vanilla
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. baking powder
extra coconut oil for brushing the doughnut pan

1 1/2 tbsp. coconut oil
1 Tbsp. cocoa
1 Tbsp. birch xylitol dissolved into 1 tsp. hot water
dash of salt
1/4 tsp. vanilla


Preheat oven to 350˚. Brush your doughnut pan (I love my Nordic ware pan) with coconut oil and set aside.

In a medium bowl whisk the egg, melted oil, milk, vanilla and vinegar. Add the birch xylitol and mix well until the xylitol is dissolved into the mixture as best as possible.

In another bowl, mix the cocoa, flour, salt, baking powder and baking soda. Pour gently into the wet ingredient and mix well until combined. Splash more almond milk into the dry mixture if batter seems too stiff.

Using a spoon and knife (or a pastry bag if you are OCD) spoon the batter into the doughnut molds until just to the rim. Use your knife to smooth them out and distribute the batter evenly.

Bake for 10-12 minutes, rotating pan once during baking. Doughnuts should spring back when touched.

Let cool for 10 minutes in the pans before inverting the doughnuts onto a cooling rack to cool completely.

Meanwhile make the frosting. Dissolve the xylitol in the hot water (I used the microwave to do this). Add the vanilla, cocoa and coconut oil and salt and mix well. Use as a drizzling frosting or glaze. If you want a sturdier frosting, place in the refrigerator for a few minutes while the doughnuts cool.

Once cooled, frost with the chocolate frosting and sprinkle with extra birch xylitol. Freeze extras for busy weekday mornings.

RECIPE: Magic Chocolate Bottom Amaretto Cake

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This is a great snack cake for guests or just for a nice treat after a Sunday meal. It's been in my recipe repertoire for years and I am so excited to finally have foodie photos for you so I can share it here!

It has a decadent gooey chocolate bottom that tastes great with the cake, especially if you serve it a la mode. The technique for it is a little bold by pouring the syrup right on top of the wet batter. Don't get scared about the chocolate part, it really works. The chocolate on the top somehow makes a silky chocolate bottom to the cake. Tell your kids it's the oven fairy.

Magic Chocolate Bottom Amaretto Cake

First part
1 cup flour
1/4 cup sliced almonds
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter or margarine, softened
1/2 cup milk
1 egg
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
2 Tbsp. Amaretto (and a splash)

Second part
2/3 cup sugar
2 (1 oz.) unsweetened baking chocolate
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup butter or margarine
2 tsp. Amaretto (and another splash)
1/4 cup slivered or sliced almonds


Heat oven to 350˚ F. Sprinkle 1/4 cup sliced almonds on the bottom of a well greased 9" or 11 x 7"  baking pan. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, beat the butter, add the sugar until light and fluffy, then add the egg. Alternate the milk with the dry ingredients until mixed well. Finish with the amaretto, until smooth and silky. 

Pour over the almond slivers evenly, using a spatula to gently even everything out. Set aside. 

Now move to part 2. In a small sauce pan, combine the sugar with the water over medium heat. As the sugar dissolves, add the vanilla then add the chocolate and melt and mix . Bring mixture to a complete boil (about 6-8 minutes). Remove from heat, and stir in the butter and amaretto. Mix completely. 

Pour mixture over the cake batter in the pan gently and evenly. Sprinkle the top with the rest of the almonds. Bake for 30-40 minutes, or until the top springs back when touched in the center. Cool completely, and serve with vanilla ice cream.

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