RECIPE: Oat and Whole Wheat Blueberry Muffins

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In our quest for healthier eating, we have almost completely switched to whole wheat flour. This past Saturday morning I woke to an odd snow storm for the first day of Spring. So I felt the need to cook something warm and wholesome in the oven. So I whipped this up. It is low sugar, using Splenda to cut the sugar amount, and oats and whole wheat to add a lot of fiber. Pecans add protein, and blueberries are rich in vitamin C and antioxidants. I used my big muffin tin and got 7 large muffins. You can freeze any extra and have them throughout your workweek. Your muffin will defrost by the time you walk into your office. Just pop it in the microwave for ten seconds and you have a power breakfast at work!

3/4 cup quick-cooking oats
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
3/4 tsp. salt
1 stick butter, softened
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/3 cup Turbinado sugar
2/3 cup granulated Splenda or regular sugar
2 large eggs at room temp.
1 tsp. vanilla
1 cup low-fat milk
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. grated lemon peel
1 cup fresh or thawed blueberries
1/3 cup chopped pecans


Preheat oven to 350˚. Grease muffin tins and set aside. Mix oats, flour, baking powder, cinnamon, lemon peel and salt in a bowl. Set aside. In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter and add the sugars. Beat until light and fluffy. One at a time, beat in the eggs until well blended. Add the vanilla. Then, alternate adding the dry ingredients with the milk, mixing well after each addition. You should do this about three times until it is all used.

By hand, add the pecans and blueberries to the batter until well blended.

Divide mixture evenly in your tin and bake for about 25-30 minutes until muffins are cooked through and golden. Serve warm with some butter and jam.

RECIPE: Florentine Gnocchi aka: Ravioli Nudi, "Little Field Mice" or Spinach and Ricotta Dumplings

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These dumplings have been a favorite at our house for a couple of years. They are not that hard to make and they have very little flour. So if you use low fat dairy, this would be a great phase 3 South Beach dish. My daughter also loves them, and I don't think she realizes she is eating spinach. So if you have trouble getting your little ones to eat green vegetables, this might do the trick. You can make these with more ricotta cheese than the recipe calls for. In fact, the photos below are done with more cheese than the recipe. But I have added photos at the bottom with a more accurate ratio of cheese to spinach, and you can see that the dumplings hold their shape better. Also, this recipe calls for the dumplings to be tossed with butter. I think they would be just as good in a vodka sauce, a pesto, an olive oil sauce or a plain tomato sauce. I think a cream sauce would be overkill.

Ravioli Nudi, "Little Field Mice" or Spinach and Ricotta Dumplings


2 6 oz. packages of ready-to-use baby spinach leaves

2 6 oz. packages regular ready-to-use spinach

(you can replace 2 10 oz. packages of frozen spinach, defrosted, if you can't get fresh)
2 to 2 1/2 cups whole milk ricotta cheese
1 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
1/2 cup (about) all-purpose flour
2 large egg yolks
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. ground pepper
Generous pinch of ground nutmeg

 1/4 cup butter, melted


Cook spinach in a large pot of boiling salted water until just wilted. Do not cover. Stir occasionally for about two minutes. Drain. Squeeze out liquid as much as possible. Then chop. Mix the spinach with the ricotta, 1/2 cup Parmesan, 1/2 cup flour, egg yolks, salt, pepper and nutmeg in a bowl until a sticky dough forms. It will be sticky, be careful  not to put too much flour in the mix, you will change the texture of the dumplings.

Dust a baking sheet with flour. Flour your work surface and flour your hands. Working in batches, roll about a cup of dough on your floured surface to form a foot long log. Cut the log into 1 inch pieces. Take each piece and roll into ovals using flour on your hands, and place on floured cookie sheet. Continue until all dough is used. You may now chill your dumplings up to one day ahead, or even freeze them. We have read that chilling helps them to keep their shape, but we have never had a problem with them. We just get cooking right away. (who can wait?)

While rolling our dumplings, heat a large pot of boiling, salted water. Using a straining spoon, gently dunk your dumplings in the water. Cook them in batches so they don't stick together. The dumplings will rise to the surface. Let them cook at the top for 4-5 minutes longer, then pull them out and drain using the straining or slotted spoon. Place them in a warm serving bowl. Meanwhile, melt your butter. When all the dumplings are done, toss with butter and sprinkle with more parmesan and serve.

Below are the dumplings with less ricotta, As you can see, they tend to hold their shape a little better and cook more evenly. But they are less cheesy.

GARDENING: Spring Gardening Post Round-Up!

Pin It Hi all! With the bulbs peeking out of the soil everywhere, I know a lot of you out there are getting ready to GET DIRTY!!!! I decided to gather all my previous posts on Spring gardening tips in case any of you need some insights, tips or inspiration. Happy Planting!

Post on garden planning:

Post on pruning, I have a spring pruning list here at the end of the post:

Post on container ideas:

Post on musings about shade garden:

Post on coffee grounds in the garden:

Post on seed starter kits:

Post on the woes of landscape liner:

Post on the woes of landscape liner part 2:

Post on a great garden gadget-Easy Bloom Plant Sensor:

GARDENING: Are seeds really cheaper?

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Spring is around the corner, and if you are a gardener like me, you have had your "garden senses tingling" for weeks now. And as many gardeners like me, have had your "gardening budgets" cut yet again from the family bean counter! So what to do!? How can you achieve gardening bliss with shoestring budgets? The answer for me the past few years has been seeds. But as I began thinking last night (I had plans to pick up seeds today) is it really cheaper for the effort? I started working numbers in my head, and then I had a hunch. SO I began really working some numbers on paper, and I was very surprised at what I arrived at. Below is my number work up.

But I have to couch this by saying, I am working on averages. Depending on coupons, sales and deals in catalogs and online stores, these numbers will change dramatically. This is also based on "urban" pricing that I suffer through. Some of you out there are not subjected to Mayor Daley's taxes, so you might get better savings. The other thing is that seed packets have countless seeds. If you can find room and planting material to plant more, go for it. Your price for the effort goes down on how much yield you can muster. Also, more unique plants might cost more at the nursery versus starting from seeds. In that case, seeds are the way to go. If you start perennials from seed, you will save as well. Typically, a perennial starter plant is $2-$3 a plant at a nursery. But apples to apples with run-of-the-mill annuals-I can't believe I am saying this-it's almost a wash.

72 cell starter kit-$19.99 retail (I found it on amazon at 12.99-a big difference)
1 packet of seeds average $2.00
2 cells per packet =12 packets (12 plants per type)
12 x $2.00 = $24.00
*benefit-(seed investment can be used towards next year's crop)
* Can get more savings if you can fit two plants in each cell and split them in transplant mode
144 plants, Grand Total= $63.98

REALLY FROM SCRATCH HOME GROWN SEEDS :(way cheaper but labor intensive)
Sterilized seed starting soil, 3 bags, average $7.00 each= $21.00 total
12 packets seeds = $24.00
Grow lights: tabletop $130.00-$250.00 (a one time investment)
*benefit-(seed investment can be used towards next year's crop as well as grow light)
*investment not limited to 144 plants, if you have extra, keep going!
Around 144 plants, Grand Total: $45.00 (without grow light investment)

6 cell pack flats=48 plants, average retail $17.99
3 flats, 144 plants, Grand Total =$ 53.97

RECIPE: Dominican Red Beans

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This recipe was adapted from one of our nanny’s recipe who was from the Dominican. Rich added things and tweaked it and it is delicious. It is a great side dish for a Latin night, and you let the stove do all the work. You can precook the beans for the two hours a couple days before and rinse and refrigerate them until you want to finish them. We serve them over brown rice and some spicy chicken breasts.

Dominican Beans


1 bag of dried red beans or pinto beans plus 1 Tbsp. salt in pot of water

1 Tbsp. olive oil

4 cloves garlic, crushed

1 1/2 Tbsp. vinegar

1/2 onion, chopped

1/2 green pepper, diced

1/2 tsp. dried oregano

1 tsp. salt & pepper

2 Tbsp. tomato paste

7 oz. chicken broth

5-6 sprigs cilantro, roughly chopped

Cook dried beans in a pot of water (cover beans with the water) and cook over medium heat with the cover askew for two hours. (Do not completely cover the beans, beans will be bitter). Drain beans and rinse.

In a pot, heat oil, and add onions and garlic and green peppers until translucent and soft. Add beans, tomato paste, vinegar, broth and seasoning, and cook 15 minutes. Then add chopped cilantro and let cook 5 minutes. Serve over rice.

LIFESTYLE: Making peace with Church on Sundays

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Being Italian and Roman Catholic, I have had a lot of church in my life. Add 7 years of parochial school, and you can say I am almost an expert at Sunday church going. And maybe it is because of that, I just have not been going in my adult life. You can say I have been "Churched Out." Now my daughter is in Catholic school, complete with Religion classes and a church visit with her classmates every Tuesday. SO when my husband began pushing us to participate in Mass on Sunday mornings as a family, I resisted. My excuses ranged from, "Too busy", "Too Tired", "Already Booked", "Our daughter has enough Church!", etc. Now I know many of you hard-core Catholics out there are horrified (my mother included), but I can't be the only one feeling this way. Even the Catholic Church is running a marketing campaign of "Catholics Come Home" to entice people like me to reconnect with The Church.

So now here we are in the throws of our daughter's first communion year, and after a parent meeting with our priest, I was persuaded to give Sunday church going another try. It wasn't the thick guilt trip our priest laid out on all of us, but the simple statement of "Be true to your children." He explained that children know dishonesty when they see it. And if we are pushing them down a path of Catholicism and having them go through the process of 1st communion, and yet we don't practice our faith in our households and as a family, than it is very confusing for them. It's downright hypocritical. And you know what, he was absolutely right!

So I arrived home that night telling my husband that Sunday we were turning over a new leaf. He laughed, saying that he had been wanting us to go for years. Outside of the getting up early and rushing my Sunday coffee time, it was not that bad. And something amazing happened while we were there.

I liked it.

Yep, after all the times I was forced to go and being bored or self-conscious (my childhood church was more about being seen than worship) I enjoyed having quiet time with my family. I enjoyed explaining parts of the mass to our daughter and singing with her. I enjoyed being part of a community that was bigger than me. Did I mention the quiet time? I realized that in our busy, hectic lives, we do not have anytime to be alone and quiet, to meditate or pray. And this is especially moving when it's not just you (like in Yoga), but you have your children and husband right there next to you. When do you as a family get to sit and "Be"? It dawned on me that this is probably one of the reasons my mother was so drawn to mass as well. A mother of three, she was always running around for or after one of us. For that hour on Sunday, we could all be together without the noise of the world and carve out some time for something bigger than ourselves.

I know that Sunday worship exists for many, many reasons, both secular and social. And, yes, it is in the commandments. But for me, it really brought to life the statement, "A family that prays together, stays together." I can see that now.
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