Disclosure: This shop has been compensated by Collective Bias, Inc. and its advertiser. All opinions are mine alone. #MyWayToVeg #CollectiveBias
Looking for a way to stand out in the lunchroom crowd? I've been seeing a lot of blog posts lately featuring bento bags, cute little lunch sacks that tie shut from the top. Bento bags are Japanese in origin, inspired by the fascinating art of Furoshiki. Similar projects are used to wrap gifts and to hold or transport things in and around the home - in the most beautiful way possible!
This blog post has been compensated by Dairy Farmers of America, Inc. All opinions are mine alone. #LaVaquitaCheese #CollectiveBias #Ad
All hail the mighty casserole. She comes in many forms - often smothered in cheese and packed with flavorful layers. They are made to please a crowd, feed a small army, and reheat with ease. My personal favorites usually involve vegetables while my husband prefers casseroles that focus on pasta.
Vegetable lasagna puts together the best of both worlds, and like casseroles in general, the concept of vegetable lasagna has been reinvented over and over again. For this recipe, I decided to combine savory roasted eggplant and red bell peppers with crumbled queso fresco in a roasted tomato sauce. Replacing traditional ricotta cheese with queso fresco gives this casserole a firm, hearty texture.
I used La VaquitaⓇ Queso Fresco, a local Texas brand in this recipe. La Vaquita® was founded by Maria Castro in 1971. Castro began making the cheese from her Houston home shortly after immigrating from Mexico.
Using a traditional recipe she learned from her grandmother, Castro began making batches of cheese to share with friends and neighbors in Houston. Over 40 years later, La Vaquita® authentic Mexican cheeses and cremas are an important part of Texas' food identity!
Like ricotta or feta cheeses, queso fresco does not melt when heated, but remains firm and crumbly. The mild flavor and delicate crumbly texture of queso fresco is perfect for stuffing casseroles. La Vaquita® Queso Fresco has the classic mellow flavor I expect in a great queso fresco. For a sharper flavor, try using La Vaquita® Queso Fresco Salvadoreno instead.
Included are steps and ingredients for making a fresh tomato sauce using roasted garlic and tomato. To simplify this lasagna recipe, just omit the tomato, onion, and garlic, and skip steps 2 to 4. You are welcome to use a 16-ounce jar of marinara sauce instead.
Roasted Vegetable Lasagna with Queso Fresco
A delicious layered casserole stuffed with crumbled queso fresco, savory roasted vegetables and fresh tomato sauce.
- 1 16-ounce package lasagna noodles,
- 5 pounds roma tomatoes
- 1 medium sized onion
- 1 bulb garlic
- 1 large eggplant
- 4 small red bell peppers
- ½ cup frozen spinach
- 4 tablespoons minced fresh basil
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- ½ cup olive oil, divided
- 16 ounces La Vaquita® Queso Fresco crumbling cheese
- 16 ounces shredded mozzarella cheese
- salt and pepper, as needed
- Bring a large pot of water to boil. Add a generous pinch of salt to the water, then cook the lasagna noodles according to package directions. Do not overcook. Al dente noodles work best in lasagna. When the noodles have finished cooking, drain them quickly and rinse with cold water to cease cooking.
- Preheat oven to 450°F. Slice the top ⅓ of the garlic bulb off, exposing bulbs. Brush the exposed bulbs with oil and place in small oven-proof bowl or crock. Set aside.
- Cut tomatoes into quarters and remove seeds. Peel and chop onion. Combine tomato and onion in a large bowl, season with a pinch of salt and pepper. Add 1 tablespoon olive oil and toss together. Spread mixture onto baking sheet. Roast tomatoes, onions, and garlic bulb for 15 minutes. Remove garlic from oven, then set oven to broiler and broil for 10 minutes. Pop garlic cloves from peel when cool enough to handle.
- When tomato mixture has cooled enough to be handled safely transfer them to a blender. Add peeled garlic cloves, tomato paste, 1/2 teaspoon salt. 1/8 teaspoon black pepper, and puree until smooth. Stir in 2 tablespoons minced basil.
- Set oven back to 450°F. Peel eggplant and cut into ¼ inch slices. Spread slices out on baking sheet lined with parchment. Brush slices with oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Set aside.
- Line a second baking sheet with parchment. Toss whole peppers with 1 tablespoon olive oil and place on baking sheet. Roast peppers and eggplant for 20 - 30 minutes or until eggplant is tender and peppers have developed brown or black spots.
- Fill a large bowl or pot with water and ice. Drop roasted peppers into ice bath and allow them to cool for several minutes. Use your finger to peel the skin, stems, and seeds from the peppers. Reserve the peeled flesh in a small bowl and discard the rest. Chop the roasted flesh into strips.
- Preheat oven to 350°F. Brush the bottom of a 3-quart casserole dish with olive oil, then place 3 lasagna noodles into the dish. Top with a thin layer of tomato sauce. Place the eggplant slices down to create the next layer, followed by about ½ of the La Vaquita® Queso Fresco.
- Place 3 more noodles down, and another layer of sauce followed by about ½ the shredded mozzarella, and ¾ roasted peppers.
- Place 3 more noodles down, and another layer of sauce followed by the second ½ of the La Vaquita® Queso Fresco and the frozen spinach.
- Place 3 more noodles down, and add one last layer of sauce followed by the remaining mozzarella cheese and red peppers. Sprinkle remaining basil over the top.
- Bake finished casserole for 45 minutes. Switch oven to broiler and broil for 5 minutes to brown cheese. Let lasagna stand for at least 10 minutes before serving.
I shopped for this recipe at my local Fiesta. Fiesta carries a great selection of La Vaquita® products including quesos and cremas. You can check them out on Facebook as well. Make sure to look for Ibotta offers for a good deal.
Disclosure:This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of Levana. The opinions and text are all mine.
Sleep when they sleep. These words are spoken no less than ten thousand time to every expecting parent, and it truly is great advice. Except for that part where you still need to shower, work, cook, take care of the house, and you know, get on with life. That's where the art of working through nap time comes in.
I never know exactly how long I'll have while the little one snoozes, so I make it a point to pack every moment of his sweet sweet slumber to the gills. I treat nap time sort of like bonus time. I might use it to catch up on work, catch a much needed shower, grab a bite to eat, prep our evening meal, or even sneak in a quick craft project.
...And sometimes I spend his nap on the couch binge watching trashy tv shows.
Anyway, however you choose to make use of those precious napping hours, having a great baby monitor is key. Being able to check on your little pumpkin without actually opening the bedroom door allows you to go about your nap time tasks with your mind at ease.
I was given the Willow™ 5” HD Touchscreen PTZ Video Baby Monitor to check out in advance of this blog post and I can honestly say that I was impressed. The camera has a high definition camera with pan, tilt zoom, and night vision - perfect for babies or toddlers that move around a lot as they sleep. The camera is extremely quiet too, so you don't have to worry about its motor waking your little one if you do choose to adjust the camera angle.
It's also incredibly helpful when checking on toddlers who are out of the crib. Since we moved C into a twin bed (mostly for mama's comfort, to tell you the truth) he's had the freedom to get up and get into pretty much anything and everything. Being able to swivel the camera around the room (and zoom!) lets me see what he's up to. If he's quietly reading books, I can snag an extra ten minutes of mama time before going to get him. If he's scaling the walls, I can intervene right away. It's pretty flipping awesome.
Besides being great for simply watching little ones, the Willow also comes with a ton of really cool extras like built-in feeding and nap timers, a temperature sensor, Talk to Baby™ or Parent Two-Way Communication, and the ability to play nature sounds and lullabies. The monitor uses a 5" touch screen, making it super easy to set up, operate, and customize features.
The 500 foot transmission range and 12-hour battery life of the monitor is also a big plus for busy parents. It gives you the freedom to move all over the house while staying in range. Not having to worry about plugging the monitor in as you go about your nap time tasks makes a world of difference. I can tote my monitor from the kitchen as I formulate recipes, out to the sun room to take photos, and then up to my office to work on a blog post - all without having to plug or unplug anything.
My inner tech geek loves that the Willow uses small private networks to transmit monitor data - discouraging potential hackers. Levana is a pioneer in high-tech monitors and puts a huge emphasis on safety, which is obviously a huge concern for parents.
I put together this cute little video to share a peek into how we make the most of nap time at our house. C loved starring in the mini-film, of course, and has asked me to play "his movie" no less than one million times since we finished it!
Click here for the easy-to share, short-form version
What would you like to do more of during nap time? Enter to win your very own Levana Willow Baby Monitor and make it happen! This giveaway runs until December 5. Good luck!
To find out more about Levana and their wonderful range of baby safety products, visit MyLevana.com. You can also follow Levana on Facebook, where the company shares adorable goodies, like the video below.
This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of Levana. The opinions and text are all mine.
Disclosure: This shop has been compensated by Collective Bias, Inc. and its advertiser. All opinions are mine alone. #RestAndRenew #CollectiveBias
It's no secret that children are adept at exhausting their parents. It sometimes feels like my husband and I spend every waking moment either at work or chasing our squealing toddler. There isn't much downtime for either of us, and it's been a long time since we've had the luxury of sleeping late or even through the night without interruption. Still, as most parents would tell you, we wouldn't trade our life with C for all the feather beds and R.E.M. on Earth. While the last two years have easily been the most tiring of our lives, they have also been the most rewarding
Still, there are days when I wonder if I might just fall asleep standing up. On those extra sleepy days my son is almost guaranteed to be overflowing with energy. Perhaps it's the universe's way of keeping the family's qì in balance - or maybe it's fate's idea of a cruel joke. Cosmic justifications aside, an over-tired parent and an abundantly engergetic child can be a recipe for trouble. Those are the days when I need to take some extra steps to help muster enough pep to get through the day.
Over the past two years I've developed a few tricks for re-energizing my mind and body. These healthy practices can be a boon on any day, but I find them to be especially useful on the days where I'm feeling a little sleepy.
Morning Walk - What better way to put a positive spin on an early wake-up than going for a morning walk? Exercising at the day's start can help boost energy levels all day long. This is a great example of making the most of a crumby situation - like having your kid jump on your head at 4:00am. If you're up anyway, you may as well do something to help yourself feel better about it. (Chocolate chip pancakes don't hurt either.)
Sneak in a Shower - I am going to go out on a limb and assume that I'm not the only parent who counts a shower as a luxury. Depending on your childcare situation and schedule, an unscheduled shower can be a tricky thing to pull off. But if you can manage it, a healthy spray of water can be just the thing to wake you up. If a real shower isn't in the cards, try just splashing your face with water or even dousing your head in the sink.
Power Nap - An even less likely option than showering for some parents, but again, if you can make it happen, bravo! A short nap, even as brief as 15-20 minutes can do wonders for your overall feeling of wellness. Try and sneak in a snooze while your little one naps, or grab a quick sleep break when your partner or sitter arrives.
Power Snacks - Try snacking on foods packed with energy-boosting vitamins and minerals, like B12, magnesium and potassium. Some great examples of healthy power snacks are almonds, dark chocolate, berries, peanut butter and bananas. Fresh fruit and power greens always make me feel a little better too.
Eat Lunch Outside - A little boost of Vitamin D can help to improve your mood, while the burst of sunlight and fresh air will help remind your body that it is, indeed, awake! If you have your kiddo in tow, this doubles as a way to get some of their excess energy out. Let them play hard while you soak up some rays.
Hydrate - Drinking plenty of fluids is key to good health in general, but is specifically useful for feeling awake and energetic. Being even mildly dehydrated can leave you feeling fatigued, so chug those liquids all day long. Adding a squirt of lemon to your water can add electrolyte benefit too!
Early to Bed, Early to Rise - Strangely enough, I often have a hard time falling asleep on the days I am most tired. This can be really frustrating, and can prolong the torture of exhaustion. I've learned to be pro-active when it comes to recovering from sleepless nights by heading straight to bed after putting my son to sleep. An added bonus to getting to bed early is being able to wake up before my son the next morning. Having some precious alone time when I first wake up is a real treat, and helps make me feel more together all day long.
Dance Party - Nothing gets your blood flowing like good old fashioned exercise. When you feel like you're really hitting a wall try turning up the music and dancing like you've got your own music video. Your kid will love it, and you'll definitely be more awake after a song or two.
In addition to energy-boosting strategies like these, finding a nutritional supplement that works well for you can be a big help. I took Maca Powder for the first time last year while I was trying to conceive. I had learned about the supplement while researching fertility diets, and found that this natural root vegetable, cultivated in the Andes mountains of Peru, has been traditionally used for both food and nutritional purposes. Traditional used for Maca Powder include promoting energy, balancing hormones, aiding sexual function, and the relief of PMS and menopause symptoms.*
I was asked to try out youtheory® Maca Powder previous to writing this post. Having tried several brands of Maca Powder over the past year I could immediately tell that youtheory® Maca Powder was superior in quality to the varieties that I had tried in the past. I found the aroma and flavor of this Maca Powder to be quite mild and easy to blend with everyday foods like smoothies or yogurt. It works especially well in anything with a nutty or spicy flavor. My personal favorite way to enjoy youtheory® Maca Powder is to stir it into pumpkin flavored yogurt.
So what makes youtheory® Maca Powder a great supplement for tired parents? Maca is regarded as a “superfood" and is an "adaptogenic botanical”, meaning that it helps the body adapt to stress and supports normal functions throughout the body. It's considered safe for long-term use, and it can benefit both men and women by helping to encourage healthy hormone levels.*
Nothing messes with my mood and energy level like having my hormones swing out of whack, so I pretty much LOVE Maca Powder. Since this supplement is also used to support reproductive health*, I'm crossing my fingers that making Maca Powder a part of my daily routine will help my body get in better shape for baby-making. We're currently trying to conceive without the use of prescription drugs or treatments. (Mostly because we can't afford that path financially, but also due to the fact that my toddler is still not ready to wean. Ugh.) Cross your fingers for us!
And while you are doing something nice for me, do yourself a favor and think about how you're going to give yourself a little extra energy every day. Will you pledge to take power naps, make morning walks your new healthy habit, or maybe try adding a supplement like youtheory® Maca Powder to your meal plan? Let me know what you're planning to try (and how it works out for you) in the comments below!
Want to learn more about the benefits of youtheory® products and see how others are using them? Check out RestandRenew.com for more info. You can also follow youtheory® on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Look for youtheory® Maca Powder and other Maca Powder products on Costco.com, and FYI - you don't need to be a Costco member in order to shop on their website!
*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.
Disclosure: This post is sponsored by the American Heart Association
It sometimes surprises people to find out that I didn't really learn to cook until my mid-twenties. When I was 25, I could boil spaghetti, but that was pretty much it - despite having worked in restaurants since I was sixteen.
It wasn't until Scott Bobleo (my then boyfriend and now husband) ran into a health problem that I opened a cookbook in earnest and started really learning about food.
I shared this story in detail on The American Heart Association's blog. Visit the AHA blog to find out how breaking up with salt ended up changing the course of my entire life.
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links for Mighty Nest and Amazon. Shopping through these links helps support Mary Makes Good at no cost to you. Thanks!
Making small changes to the products you use in your home is one way to make a daily impact on the environment and often your budget. Of course, not every re-usable product works as well as it's mass produced disposable counterpart. We've tried out a whole lot of gear over the years, and at this point we don't use a whole lot of dispoable products in our everyday lives. There are still some things we have not been able to replace effectively, like garbage bags or freezer food storage bags, but on the whole I feel like we do a pretty good job of keeping things sustainable around here.
I'm fairly thrifty by nature, so when we decide to purchase re-usable products for our home I need to know that I'm making a sound investment. I know that a lot of you feel the same way, and that blindly buying trendy products isn't the best way to save resources in the long run. After all, what good is a re-usable water bottle if it ends up in the land fill?
My number one piece of advice for buying re-usable products is to invest in products that are either extremely simple or extremely durable. That doesn't always mean going for the most expensive product. For example, mason jars are fairly cheap, built to last, and can serve a huge variety of purposes around the house.
A few months ago I signed up for Mighty Fix, a monthly subscription service from Mighty Nest that delivers a new re-usable product for you to try every month. The subscription is super affordable at just $10 a month, and often delivers a product that retails for well over the price of the subscription. I've found this to be a pretty awesome deal. For example, last week I received Bee's Wrap. I have been curious about the product, but too nervous to spend the money on trying it out. The month before I received three wool dryer balls - one of my favorite home products and definitely worth more than 10 bucks.
Deal Alert: If you'd like to give Mighty Fix a try, use one of the following links to to get a discount on your first month's subscription and the chance to choose the first product you'll receive:
- Try the MightyFix for only $3 with promo code DRYERFIX2016 and get 3 Dryer Balls as your first mont
- Try the MightyFix for only $3 and get 2 sheets of Bee's Wrap for your first month with promo code BEESFIX2016
- Try the MightyFix for only $5 and get an exclusive Lifefactory Water bottle as your first month with promo code BOTTLEFIX2016
When it comes to stocking my house with eco-friendly and re-usable products, there are a few key factors that I always keep in mind.
Now that we've covered my expectations for a great re-usable product, let's get down to business. The following gadgets, gizmos, and gear are my very favorite things to use in place of disposable products.
Stuff for the Home
Dryer Balls - These little balls of felted wool are pure magic. They replace the need for fabric softener or dryer sheets, and are completely natural. You can even scent them with a drop or two of essential oil before starting the dryer to give your laundry a happy, healthy aroma.
Microfiber Dust Cloths - Paper towels are stupid expensive, and they don't even work all that well. Do yourself a favor and buy a set of 2 - 4 microfiber cleaning cloths the next time you run out of paper towel. They work even better than paper and are as good as new after a quick trip through the laundry.
Dish Towels - Same deal. Get yourself a big old pile of inexpensive dish towels and use them to dry spills on the floor, clean up messy counter tops, even dry dishes now and then. You really, really don't need paper towels (or at least not so many). I promise.
Newspaper Seedling Potter - If you like to garden, this little gadget is a great buy. It helps you fold old newspaper (and junk mail flyers) into seedling pots! The paper dissolves shortly after being planted so you don't even have to worry about popping the little cuties out of their shell when it's time to put them in the ground.
Paper Shopping Bags - We keep a stash of paper shopping bags handy for collecting recyclables in our home. When collection day comes we can empty the bags into our bin and toss them along with the rest if they've become slimy or stinky. They also make great scrap paper for craft projects, food photos, and even baking paper in a pinch.
Stuff for the Kitchen
Bee's Wrap - I just started using this stuff and am in love! I tried making my own once upon a time and was less than impressed with the result. These folks have somehow cracked the code though, and developed a great alternative to plastic wrap for everyday use.
Deal Alert: Try the MightyFix for only $3 and get 2 sheets of Bee's Wrap for your first month with promo code BEESFIX2016
Silicone Bowl Covers - Another awesome alternative to plastic wrap, these silicone covers suction down to fit a variety of bowl sizes. It doesn't help much if you are trying to cover a square casserole, but if you have an abundance of round serving and prep bowls these are pretty cool. They do feel a bit spendy - but you may find that you don't need all that many in your stash to replace occasional plastic wrap usage.
Glass Food Storage Containers - Hands down, the best investment I have made in my kitchen. For some reason, even the nicest plastic food storage containers I buy eventually crack apart or disappear. I'm pretty sure there is a special spot in the Bermuda Triangle just for Gladware. I purchased two sets of Pyrex food storage containers two years ago and am yet to lose a single piece. (Knock on wood.) That was definitely money well spent.
Grocery Bags - Here in Austin we have a ban on plastic shopping bags so re-usable totes are pretty essential. Even before that law passed we had a good-sized stash going. I feel like I'm showered with re-usable totes pretty regularly, but there are only a handful that I actually cherish. My sturdy canvas totes are the cream of my grocery bag crop and are never-ever lent out or left behind like their shoddy polyester brethren. I also keep a tiny folded shopping bag in my purse on the regular. That helps save me in those dippy times that I inevitably forget to bring one of my million totes to the store.
Snack Bags - While I don't use these little bags as much as I expected to, they do come in handy whenever I need to collect goldfish crackers or stash a sandwich in something more portable (and less breakable)
Snack / Lunch Containers - While I definitely prefer glass to plastic when it comes to food storage, I am not quite ready to trust my toddler with a glass lunch box. Stainless steel boxes have caught my eye, but I am yet to come to terms with spending that much on a lunch box. For now, my little C packs his PB&J in small Sistema containers.
Silicone Baking Mats - Another superhero in my kitchen, my Silpat mats have been put through their paces. While my Mom guards her Silpats from savory endeavors (hers are just used for baking sweets) I use mine for just about everything. After about six years of vigorous use they are a little grimy, and they have a slice here and there, but overall are going strong. These will replace aluminum foil over your pans while cooking savory foods and can also replace parchment paper for most baked goods. And if you buy a good brand, they will last a very very long time.
Cloth Napkins - Not only will you be saving trees from becoming tissue paper, you will get to feel fancy at every meal! Cloth napkins are a simple addition that will make any kitchen feel just a bit more cozy and environmentally conscious. If the price of cloth napkins seems ridiculous or intimidating, try building your stash at thrift stores or even making your own!
Mason Jars, Lids, and Adapters - Mason jars are an essential (even if hopelessly trendy) part of a sustainable kitchen. They can be used as food storage, drink cups, vessels for homemade bath and body products, and of course, pickling and preserving. Their versatility is increased with the help of re-usable plastic lids, drink adapters, and some helpful DIY mason jar hacks.
Cloth Diapers - Cloth Diapering is probably the biggest opportunity for new parents to save money. Investing in a high quality set of cloth diapers may feel expensive while making the initial purchase, but it can save hundreds or thousands of dollars in the long run. Plus, you'll be keeping a small mountain of plastic from ending up in the landfill. Thanks to the COHI Cloth Network you can do even more for greater good while investing in cloth diapers. COHI helps mamas and babies in some of the most dangerous places on Earth. Read their story here - and have some tissues handy.
Cloth Baby Wipes - Another big money saver and something that is really not very inconvenient if you are already cloth diapering. You can make your own cloth baby wipes very easily, or buy them in bundles to use again and again.
Milk Freezer Trays - Plastic pouches can be a big saver for freezing expressed breastmilk, but they are not always a necessity. Re-usable ice cube trays allow you to freeze the milk and then save the cubes in any container you like. This method may not, however, be preferable if you are donating to a milk bank or trying to keep track of a high volume of milk, keep your frozen milk separated by pump, etc. There are definitely times when the little disposable baggies can be the better choice.
Re-usable Food Pouches - I don't know if it is all little children, or just mine, but kids love food in pouches. I love being able to hand him something he can enjoy without a lot of mess, but I really don't love the idea of throwing away pouch after pouch. The waste factor really bugs me. Luckily, there are tons of options for reusable pouches. I have tried a few different kinds, and while I would prefer to love the pouches made from silicone, they don't go over as well with my son (or with my patience) as the plastic types.
I shared a tasty recipe for slow cooked apple butter on Sofab Foods. This super simple recipe infuses classic apple pie spices into one of my very favorite homemade preserves. Visit Sofab Food for the recipe!
Austin Bakes is a grassroots charity event that is near and dear to my heart. I've been helpling out with Austin Bakes since their very first sale following the tsunami that hit Japan in 2011. It was one of my first introductions into the Austin food community, and a regular reminder of why I love this city so much.
I hope you'll join me in supporting Austin Bakes as we raise funds for Doctors Without Borders this Saturday in Austin, Texas. Sale locations include Make it Sweet on Research Blvd, Crema Bakery & Cafe on Brodie Lane, and Nate's in downtown Buda and the sale will be going on from 10am to 2pm.
This Saturday, November 5, the good people of Austin will be working together, eaters, bakers, bloggers, and chefs alike, to raise funds for Doctors Without Borders. The city-wide charity bake sale is being organized in the wake of Hurricane Matthew which has left the people of Haiti in dire need of humanitarian aid.
Since our first sale in 2011, Austin Bakes has raised nearly $60,000 for charities like Americares and the Austin Disaster Relief Network. That is pretty amazing as these proceeds were earned cookie by cookie through the hard work of volunteers.
Some things you may not know about Austin Bakes:
WANT TO HELP?
There is still time to sign up for to bake for Austin Bakes for Haiti this Saturday. We have three sale locations this year, Make it Sweet on Research Blvd, Crema Bakery & Cafe on Brodie Lane, and Nate's in downtown Buda. Just visit our Signup Page to pledge your goodies.
COME BUY TREATS!
Stop by one of our three sale locations in Saturday, November 5 between 10amto 2pm to make your donation and pick out some delicious homemade goodies. Pay cash at the table or make your donation online through the Austin Bakes Fundraiser Page.
Believe it or not, these ethereal clusters of amethyst are actually made from soap! The first time I saw this technique being used was in a DIY video on Youtube. I was totally mesmerized, and knew that I was going to have to try it out.
By the way, these soaps have been a big hit with everyone I have gifted them to. They make excellent holiday or birthday presents, and making them in six bar batches makes them super easy to stock up on.
While this project can be a tad time consuming, the method is surprisingly easy, and very forgiving! The crystals actually look better when they are cut a little differently every time so you don't have to worry too much about keeping your technique consistent. You can just slice away - happily embracing any imperfections.
If you'd like to see this project in action, check out this video tutorial from mimi'z world on Youtube.
If you are able to work with a double-boiler instead of the microwave, that inexpensive piece of equipment will make this project a whole lot easier. Because this is a layered soap, the melted soap you are working with may harden between steps. The double boiler makes keeping the melted soap warm a breeze, and allows you to reheat it gently. Microwaves can also make soap feel dry and brittle - especially when the same base is melted over and over.
Amethyst Soap Gems
Shop the Project:
- 2 pounds Clear Melt & Pour Soap Base
- 4 teaspoons Lavender Essential Oil, divided
- up to 1/2 teaspoon Purple Mica
- 1 1/8 teaspoon Silver Mica
- Rubbing alcohol in Mini Sprayer Bottle
- Circle Soap Mold
- Heatproof Measuring Cups
- Double Boiler
- Cello Bags
- Dice 1 1/2 pounds soap base and melt in double boiler on stove top or in microwave using short, 30-second bursts.
- Remove soap from heat, let stand 30 seconds, then add essential oil. Stir slowly until oil has combined.
- Fill six soap molds about 1/3 of the way up with soap. Spritz soap with alcohol then let stand for 2-4 minutes, or until the top has formed a thick skin.
- Pour about 1/2 the remaining melted soap base in a heatproof measuring cup. Add small pinch of purple mica and small pinch silver mica. Stir well to blend. Pour the mixture between the soap molds - leaving about 1/3 of space. Spritz soap with alcohol then let stand for 2-4 minutes, or until the top has formed a thick skin.
- Add about 1/8 teaspoon purple mica and 1/8 teaspoon silver mica to remaining melted soap base. Stir well, then pour into molds - topping them off. Spritz soap with alcohol then let stand for 2-4 minutes, or until the top has formed a thick skin. Transfer to refrigerator and chill soap for 30 minutes or until completely hardened.
- Turn hardened soaps out onto a clean cutting board and use a sharp knife to slice the bars into 1/2 to 1 inch rectangles. Make sure to cut so that each rectangle shows 3 layers of color.
- Slice the tops of each rectangle at random angles to give them a faceted and pointed shape. This forms the crystals. Reserve the shreds of soap cut from the and mince them into gem dust.
- Clean out the double boiler, chop remaining soap base and add it to the pot to melt. Once melted, add the remaining essential oil and silver mica and stir well.
- Pour melted soap base into six soap molds. Spritz with alcohol, then immediately begin stuffing the molds with soap crystals and gem dust. Fill each mold as much as you can. The more crystals each soap contains the more sturdy the finished soap will be.
- Allow the soaps to cool and harden completely before removing them from their molds. After they are removed, wrap them in airtight cello bags or saran wrap to keep them from sweating.
This shop has been compensated by Collective Bias, Inc. and its advertiser. All opinions are mine alone. #thetalkofthetable #CollectiveBias The following content is intended for readers who are 21 or older.
There is a time and a place for excess. Having someone special over for dinner or celebrating holidays with family and friends. These are not the times for quinoa or superfoods. These are the times for cream, parmesan and pasta. These are the evenings when you set aside the spring water and crack open a bottle of wine instead.
The recipes I reach for on special occasions are meant to delight and indulge the people I love. I don't just want to feed the crowd around my table. I want to hear them say "mmmmm". I want them to clean their plates and dream about that amazing meal for weeks to come. There is nothing more rewarding to someone who loves to cook and to feed people than being asked for a repeat on the next holiday.
This recipe is one of those meals that brings my loved ones back again and again. At home, we simply refer to this dish as Lemon Spaghetti. It's something I tend to whip up when I want to dote on people. You can top it with almost any kind of meat or seafood, but my favorite thing to use, by far, is a big fat pile of gulf shrimp.
I've never tried using lobster or scallops, but I have a strong suspicion that either of those things would be out of this world. Grilled chicken is also delicious on this pasta, and is a great option for more casual dinners or for a crowd that isn't as fond of seafood. If you are feeding vegetarians, just top the dish with any kind of hearty roasted vegetable. Peppers, eggplants, or zucchini would all be perfect.
Creamy pasta and seafood go very well with a chilled glass of chardonnay. Clos du Bois Chardonnay is a favorite at our house, so I was delighted to pair it with this dish. This bright and refreshing white wine has a low-medium oak flavor with a mildly sweet and fruit-forward flavor. It's oak flavor is well balanced and not at all overwhelming. The flavor and value of Clos du Bois Chardonnay makes it a super approachable wine that you can enjoy at special occasions or as an everyday house wine.
When it comes to making pasta-focused dishes it stands to figure that your choice in brands of pasta is an important one. Barilla, who I have partnered with for this post, happens to be the #1 choice for packaged pasta in Italy! If it's good enough for Italy, it's good enough for us. Barilla is a brand I reach for often. Simple ingredients, consistent quality, and a reasonable price point are all big wins when it comes to pasta. Barilla is a good fit for all three.
Lemon Scampi with Gulf Shrimp and Roasted BroccoliA quick and easy breakfast bowl made with sweet potato, spinach, avocado, and egg.
- 3 cups fresh broccoli florets,
- 1 pound fresh gulf shrimp
- ½ teaspoon garlic powder
- salt, as needed
- black pepper, as needed
- 1 pound Barilla Angel Hair Pasta
- 4 tablespoons butter, divided
- 4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- ½ white onion, minced
- 1 cup heavy cream, divided
- 2 ounces (4 tablespoons) cream cheese
- ¼ cup grated parmesan
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons fresh minced parsley
- 4 lemon wedges
- Preheat oven to 450F. Toss broccoli with 2 tablespoons oil, ¼ teaspoon salt, and ⅛ teaspoon black or crushed red pepper. Roast on baking sheet for 20 minutes.
- Add a hefty pinch of salt to a large pot of water. Heat on stovetop over high heat, covered, until it comes to a rolling boil. Add pasta. Stir. Boil for 5 minutes before draining and rinsing with cold water. Set aside.
- Meanwhile, peel and devein shrimp. (Instructions here.) Toss with ½ teaspoon garlic powder, ¼ teaspoon salt, ⅛ teaspoon black pepper.
- Heat large skillet over medium heat. Add 2 tablespoons butter and 2 tablespoons oil. When the pan is sizzling hot, place shrimp in pan. Cook shrimp 2 minutes, flip over, cook 2 more minutes. Remove shrimp to dish and set aside.
- Add 2 more tablespoons butter to pan along with garlic and onion. Cover, and cook over low heat for about 3 minutes, or until onions clear.
- Remove cover. Add heavy cream and bring to simmer over medium heat. Whisk in cream cheese, then add remaining ½ cup heavy cream. Bring back to simmer and slowly whisk in grated parmesan. Whisk until cheese melts completely (about 2 minutes).
- Turn off heat. Whisk in lemon juice. Toss pasta into sauce.
- Divide pasta between 4 dishes. Top with broccoli, shrimp, and wedge of lemon. Lemon should be squeezed over pasta right before eating.
What are your favorite recipes to feed friends and family? Do you have a special dish that keeps them coming back for more? I'd love to hear what you are cooking up.
Need some inspiration for your next big meal? Visit The Talk of the Table to discover even more delicious ways to pair Barilla Pasta and Clos du Bois wines. For even more ideas, check out Barilla and Clos du Bois on Pinterest!
This morning my 2 year old son insisted on wearing a frog costume to Target. I pick my battles with this fiercely individualistic soul. He wore the frog suit - but also wore shoes. That's a win in my book.
We had a little discussion on our way over about the importance of staying with Mama while in the store. We even made a deal that if he stayed with me the whole time he could pick out a small treat. There would be a bonus treat if he could manage to stay inside the cart the whole time.
"Ok Mommy.", he says.
I ask him to repeat the point of this talk back to me - just so I know he gets it. (Every now and then, this little exercise actually works.)
"No run away. I'll remember, Mommy."
About five minutes into our trip, C stands up in the cart's child seat, does his best Incredible Hulk impersonation, and snaps the silly little safety strap wide open. He quickly proceeds to pull up his legs and JUMP out.
I manage to catch his wiggling, wriggling, inexplicably heavy body about halfway to the ground before letting out a big sigh and reminding him of his promise not to bolt.
"Yes, Mommy", he says.
And so we shop. Me reminding and cajoling constantly in order to keep the child in my sight, him stopping to RIBBIT and hop at other children as they pass by. Strangers giggle. Kids shriek. C makes demands for random treats as we pass an endless parade of colorful end-cap displays.
When I stop to consult my various coupon apps before purchasing this week's giant tub of coffee he begins pulling things off of the shelf and dumping them into (and under) the cart.
"I need this. Need oatmeal. Need this one. I have this one, Mama."
I pause to appreciate the fact that he hasn't made any mad dashes yet when he spots a little girl at the other end of the aisle.
RIBBIT! HOP. HOP. HOP.
He hops up and rams into her shouting RIBBIT!!!!
The little girl bursts into tears. I apologize and stick C back in the cart. He complains. I explain. We keep shopping, but in minutes he out-muscles and escapes the cart once again, gives me one wicked grin, and bolts.
He's running at break-neck speed down the aisles, through the grocery section, and to my advantage, toward the checkout.
When I finally catch him he is giggling madly. I try to get him back in the cart but he turns his body into a big wet noodle, making it physically impossible to pick up.
Since I can't lift him up, I pin him down instead. I'm winded and frustrated and unsure of what to even do next but doing my best to keep it cool as we wrestle on the floor of the checkout section. I've learned that things like yelling and threatening have zero effect on this kid. I have to find a way to calm him down instead.
Meanwhile, I am pretty much dying of embarrassment. Everyone sees us. Everyone has an opinion. I grit my teeth and try not to look at anybody's face while my kid squeals and chatters on the linoleum.
A Target employee comes over and offers to help get my groceries from the cart to the belt. I thank her profusely and take advantage of the distraction to buckle C into the cart again. Ellen, this morning's grocery shopping angel, then proceeds to play peek-a-boo with him while I finish getting check-out. The fellow behind the register tells me stories of his own childhood and how he once ran away from his parents during a trip to Disneyworld.
Their kindness helped me laugh off the chaos and guide my little frog through the end of our trip without any tears. On our way out he, of course, gets out of the cart one last time to try and steal someone's handicapped shopping cart and then play with the job application computers in the customer service area.
When we get to the doors he lets me strap him in one last time - accepting that the parking lot was just too dangerous a place for kids to walk. As I load our bags into the trunk a couple with a smaller toddler walks over to us. They coo over C's frog costume and he treats them to a couple of shy RIBBITs. That's when the mother totally catches me off guard by saying how impressed she was at how well behaved he is. Apparently they had noticed him sitting there in the cart and watching me load the trunk as they were parking.
I nearly choke. "HA!", I said. "You should have seen him inside." I regale them with a quickly summarized version of his morning escapade. She laughs and thanks me for reassuring her that she isn't the only mother with a wild, bolting child.
I didn't say it at the time - mostly because it didn't sink in at that moment - but I'm thankful for her comment too. It was a reminder that we only see a slice of other people's lives, of other kid's behavior and their parent's reactions to it. Sadly, our trip this morning was pretty typical for C. He is a challenging shopper. With a food blogging mama he has no shortage of experience going to the store, yet he seems to get more wild with each passing day.
I often bribe him to stay in the cart by opening boxes of snacks, buying him balloons, or even pulling out a lollipop. Unfortunately, food never buys me much time, and balloons are prohibitively expensive. The worst thing, perhaps, about the bribery is that it earns me nearly as many dirty looks and snide comments as I get while chasing him through the store.
People look and see a child being spoiled. They don't see the exhaustion and desperation behind the box of cheese crackers. They don't understand what it's like to lose sight of their toddler in a crowded store - to abandon your purse, cell phone, and cart full of groceries to run screaming through Walmart after a runaway kid.
It can be maddening, mortifying, and worst of all, it can be discouraging. Lately I've been watching the other kids in the other carts and wondering why mine can't just ride in the seat like everybody else? I wonder if it's me. Am I just a crappy mother?
All those doubts are compounded by every nasty stare, every rude comment, every grouchy cashier or horrible old lady who encounters us during a trip to the grocery store. There have been times that I've sobbed in the car after leaving the checkout - feeling like a complete failure for not being able to control my own child.
This morning I remembered that while I may have limited control over my toddler, I do have control over my perspective. I can, and should, remember that my perception of other families only tells a tiny sliver of their story. In those instances when I torture myself over their apparent perfection I'm judging them and myself from an incomplete picture.
When strangers choose to be nasty instead of being kind they are doing the very same thing. They don't know me. They don't know my child or the unique challenges we face as a family. They are choosing to pass judgement on a situation they know nothing about.
That kind of judgement is crap. And it's not worth holding on to.
Let it go, mamas. Let it go.
If you're looking to kick sugary or gluten-heavy breakfasts to the curb I encourage you to consider the sweet potato bowl. Slightly starchy root veggies provide a deeply satisfying base for a morning meal that is both hearty and delicious - especially with the help of few flavorful accoutrements.
For me, breakfast has long been a challenging meal. I grew up reaching for bagels or bowls of cereal, and even after spending my adulthood surrounded by brilliant food people I still struggle with finding ways to get away from that morning carb habit. It wasn't until I started leaning on sweet potatoes that I really got into a healthier breakfast groove.
It isn't always easy to set aside the time to make (or even eat!) a hot breakfast, but I almost always feel better when I do. I've managed to streamline the process a bit by cheating with frozen veggies, but you can make this even better by throwing some fresh kale into the steamer or roasting your own sweet potatoes ahead of time. Try swapping out kale for any other green vegetable. Chard, spinach, or asparagus would be great.
The sweet potatoes could also be replaced with another root veggie. Beets, turnips, or red potatoes would all be delicious ways to mix this recipe up. If frying an egg in the morning turns out to be too big a hassle, try using hard-boiled eggs instead or swapping the egg for a quicker pre-cooked protein like tofu, black beans, or grilled chicken.
Sweet Potato Breakfast Bowl
Makes one big serving
- 1 cup sweet potato, peeled, diced, and roasted (recipe here)
- 1/2 cup spinach, steamed
- 1/2 cup avocado, diced
- 1 egg, fried
- Optional garnish: lime juice, sriracha sauce, soy sauce, or Japanese mayo
- Prepare the sweet potato and spinach ahead of time in large batches. You can roast your own sweet potatoes at 350F for about an hour and steam your own spinach over simmering water for about 2 minutes. If available, you can use frozen pre-cooked sweet potato and spinach instead.
- When you are ready to eat, quickly heat the sweet potato and spinach in a microwave or toaster oven.
- Meanwhile, fry up a fresh egg (directions here) and dice up half an avocado.
- Throw it all together in a bowl and top with whatever garnishes you like. My personal favorite combination is lime, soy sauce, and a splash of hot sauce.
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