Last week was a doozy! It all started when my husband and two older boys decided it was time to start clearing our property. We own about 6 acres in Newcastle and we’re hoping (fingers and toes crossed) to start building sometime after Christmas. Being the semi-city folk that we are, my boys started hacking away at our property without concern of running into snakes, bobcats, or poison oak. Thankfully they didn’t come face to face with any rattlesnakes or bobcats, but they did run into plenty of poison oak. Two miserable weeks, 1 shot, several bottles of calamine lotion, and a few prescriptions of prednisone later, they are finally on the mend. My husband is a pretty tough cookie, but even he lost sleep over the insane itchiness poison oak bestows.

Thankfully our week ended on a good and exciting note. A few months ago I quietly decided to enter a local pageant (the Miss Auburn Pageant). After weeks of rehearsal and agonizing over my onstage question, I was crowned Ms. Auburn!  The best part of that day wasn’t the crowing or successfully walking across stage without tripping. It was when Jude (my second oldest son) told me how proud he was of me. It was a moment that I will remember and cherish forever.

Needless to say we were exhausted come Sunday. So how does a mother thank her family for dressing up and sitting still for hours when all they want to do is take an oatmeal bath and catch up on Modern Family? With a big pot of comforting ham and potato soup, that’s how! Creamy, full of rosemary and salty ham, this soup was the perfect way to sooth my boys itchy arms and celebrate mom’s unexpected victory!

I consider myself to be a fairly responsible person.

I take my vitamins in the morning, I floss my teeth every night, and I try my hardest to tell my immediate family that I love them everyday.

But sometimes I need to remind myself that I am also adventurous! So when the chance to jump off a cliff into a warm ocean presents itself, I’ll take it. I’ll quickly think twice, say a little prayer, and then…. Geronimo!!

I also need to remind myself that I am fun. When the opportunity to push my way through a crowd of festival goers to better experience all of the confetti and music Girl Talk has to offer, I’ll take it! I might get a little nauseous among the sea of people, and I might feel a little out of place elbow to elbow with a bunch of 20 year olds, but I won’t let that won’t stop me from dancing!

Most of all I need to remind myself that it’s ok to be a little irresponsible every now and then. It’s ok if I decided to stay up past my 10:00pm bed time and it’s ok if I want to hit the snooze button in the morning and skip the gym. It’s ok if I want to have dessert for lunch and it’s definitely ok if I want to have nachos for dinner! Chips, cheese, sour cream, ahhhh irresponsibility taste delicious! Add some roasted butternut squash, chicken, and black beans and you’ll have yourself a well rounded meal. Just don’t let your irresponsible side know!

Have you ever had an idea that was too ridiculous for words, but for some reason you just couldn’t keep quiet about it?

You know, like that one time when you wanted to run a marathon, start a business, get married, have a baby, write a book. It’s not like you asked for this crazy idea to pop into your head (or maybe you did). It just kind-of happened. You simply woke up one morning and there it was, handing you a cup of coffee and wondering when you were going to have the guts to get up and get started. I currently have a silly/fun idea brewing and while I am not ready to totally let the cat out of the bag, I’m having a hard time keeping a lid on it. I will tell you that it involves food, kids, and writing. A few of my favorite things!

Before I say too much let me tell you about this Italian mac and cheese! It’s a great idea just waiting to be served for dinner! It’s full of penne, parmesan and Italian sausage. A few more of my favorite things! Like most good ideas, this recipe has a shelf life so don’t wait too long to get started on this mac and cheese. Or that new idea, new job, or new adventure!

One would assume that my daily life would be calmer and quieter the moment my boys are back in school. On some levels this is true; fewer arguments between my 5 and 13 year old to break up, and less messes to clean up through out the day. The reality is my schedule only gets crazier!

Between drop offs, pick ups, homework, projects, soccer, volleyball and volunteering in the class room, most of my free time is spent folding laundry, stocking up on juice boxes, or trying to fit in a quick phone call with my mom in the pick up line before my van is filled with chit-chatty boys.

Despite all of this chaos (that I love!) having dinner on the table is still a priority for me. During these busy days dinner happens one of three ways: I’ll put together a quick pasta dish in the afternoon and reheat it when we are ready to eat that evening, I’ll have Ryan bring home take out, or I’ll throw something into my crockpot in the morning. Out of the three, crockpot dinner nights are our favorite!

These slightly spicy, smoky chipotle chicken tacos have been in heavy rotation around here since school has started. These simple tacos are delicious with a few fun toppings, and go well with an end-of-a-crazy-day beer or glass of wine!

This summer has been the best summer ever.

Keep in mind I say that after every summer break, but I’m serious this time! It was perfect.

Perfect summers do not necessarily include big fancy tropical getaways or tons of scheduled activities. While all of that stuff is pretty great, my idea of a perfect summer includes lots of frozen yogurt, weekend bbq’s with friends, and a few fun road trips. Allowing yourself to relax and slow down makes these simple summer pleasures that much more memorable and enjoyable.

Before we jump head first into the next busy school/soccer/holiday season, we decided to take our boys on one last getaway to San Francisco. While I’m a country girl at heart, I always enjoy the busyness of the city for a few days. We ate, we rode a street car, we stayed up late, we shopped. More importantly we were together and that is always my favorite part of any trip we take. I am always thankful for these fun getaways together, but nothing beats a deliciously slow, popsicle filled summer day!

Ryan (my husband) is originally from Arcata, California. When he was about three years old his parents decided to leave their sleepy, redwood nestled home for a brighter, faster life in Sacramento. This move broke a lot of hearts, including Ryan’s grandparents. In order to keep precious family ties together, Ryan’s parents made it a priority to visit the Vanni’s (Ryan’s grandparents) as often as they could. Fast forward 30 years and you’ll find that these annual Vanni family trips to Arcata are still happening! Except now my husband is in the driver’s seat and our four boys are in the back excited to see their great-grandparents.

I love that my husband’s fond childhood memories of visiting his grandparents are now also a part of our boys history. These trips are always full of catching up, funny stories, old family photos as well as new family snap shots. Of course we all come together to share a big family breakfast with pancakes, hash browns, and a couple sides of bacon. Then there are the dinners complete with at least two helpings of veal parmesan, tiramisu, and a few glasses of red wine here and there. We all get a little misty eyed when it’s time to say goodbye and we promise to not let too much time pass before our next visit. Ryan and I always drive away thankful for his grandparents and for the time spent together.

After these weekends full of family and eating out we are usually ready to get back to our normal, everyday eating habits. On our way home from our most recent trip we stopped at a cute road side restaurant/resort called The Grass House where I stumbled upon this clean and delicious quinoa salad. Paired with a tall glass of lemon water, it was exactly what I was craving after devouring a plate full of pasta bolognese the night before!

You are never too old to hop out of bed, skip your routine cup of coffee, and board a shuttle full of excited/sleepy parents and kids.

You are never too old to run down Main Street, rush into Tomorrow Land, and zip onto Space Mountain before the line gets too long.

You are never too old to enjoy a corn dog from the Corn Dog Castle, fried chicken from The Plaza Inn, bbq ribs from Big Thunder Ranch Barbecue, and a giant ice-cream sunday from Paradise Pier Ice Cream Co. Don’t forget the popcorn, a giant pickle, a tall glass of lemon aid, and a few antacids to wash it all down with!

You are never too old to get excited when you finally see Mickey Mouse, stand in line to give Goofy a hug, or take your turn to defeat Darth Vader in your impromptu Jedi padawan training.

You are never too old to be dazzled by fireworks while eating a muti-colored lollipop, surrounded by a crowd of children and children at heart.

You are never too old to fall in love with Disneyland all over again.

My boys are finally wrapping up their school year and I don’t know who’s more excited for summer vacation, them or I!

Have you ever noticed that summer vacations tend to take on a theme? One year we were all about the pool at the gym. By the end of that summer my three older boys were professional swimmers and I was an expert at packing a stroller with a toddler, towels, lunch and pool toys! The summer after that we explored Northern California. We rented an RV for a week, spent every other weekend on a different beach and had a wonderful time exploring our beautiful state.

This year our summer theme has been set early after a crazy Memorial day filled with three BBQ’s back to back. I have a feeling this vacation will be filled with a lot of charcoal, burgers, hotdogs, ketchup, and potato salad! But what if a person doesn’t eat hamburgers or hot dogs?  Is he or she doomed to a season full of filling their plate with side dishes, and chips as everyone else sinks their teeth into a perfectly grilled main dish?! No way! I gotcha covered with this honey, dijon chicken breast sandwich. I came up with this alternative to grilled red meat or pork after I volunteered to host a BBQ where none of the guest ate hamburgers or hotdogs. True story. Thankfully these chicken sandwiches grilled up beautifully and deliciously filled the void of hotdogs and hamburgers for Ryan and I!

Ahhhhhhh, summer vacation! We are so happy that you are finally here!

The first step to being good at something is being bad at it.

It takes courage to try something new, to fall flat on your face, to dust yourself off and try, try again.

Every success I’ve experienced has started with a miserable failure. My first career as a hairdresser began with a lot of bad haircuts and my second career as a housewife started with quite a few frustrated tears. Giving up on either job was simply not an option and despite feeling overwhelmed I am thankful that I kept going. Learning my way around the art of hairdressing and figuring out how to manage a busy household are two skills that have proven to be well worth the time and patience I needed to invest in both. Without either of them I wouldn’t be the professional multitasking wife/mother, or friend-that-can-give-you-a-quick-trim I am today! More importantly conquering those skills gives me the confidence and perspective I will need to go on and ace the next challenge I decide to pursue, whatever that may be.

Another craft I have recently mastered is that of pizza making. For years my family has suffered through plenty of over topped, soggy, bland pizza crust. Determined to master a flavorful, thin crispy crust, I kept moving forward. Recipe after recipe, and then it finally happened. I cracked the pizza code! It all magically came together; the temperature of the oven, the amount of yeast and olive oil to use, how much garlic to work into the dough. Success was mine, and it tastes as delicious as it felt!

Whether we are aware of it or not, we all practice our own food philosophies. Some of us are more stringent than others living committed vegan, vegetarian, or all organic lifestyles. A few of us are fueled by sugar, willing to choke down spinach in order to get to the best part of any meal, dessert! Then there are the advocates who help keep our food safe and also keep consumers informed on how our food is raised.

Regardless of where your food values lie, what should be important to all of us is knowing where our food comes from. It’s easy to shop through a supermarket, picking up beautifully wrapped produce or meat without a thought as to how it got there. Were these tomatoes grown locally? How far did your eggs, nestled neatly in their crates, have to travel to make it to the refrigerated section? Just as it’s important to know if our food is organic, GMO or gluten free, we should also be asking where our food comes from and is it locally grown or not?

Earlier this week another local food blogger (Dorothy over at Crazy for Crust!) and I were invited by the California Farm Water Coalition to tour a few local walnut orchards (national walnut day is this Friday!) and see first hand where a good portion of our nations walnuts are grown and exported. We had the honor of meeting Todd Ramos of Ramos Farms, a third generation walnut grower. After listening to his story I quickly understood that what he does is not just a job; instead it is a lifestyle and a legacy passed down to him by his grandfather, who came to this county with nothing but an American dream. After our walk through the orchards, the red carpet was rolled out for us at Lester’s bakery. There we ate mile-high sandwiches served on homemade walnut bread, and apricot walnut bars (YUM!) for lunch. We were even able to meet Stan Lester himself, a local walnut grower, packer, and shipper. He too reflected on the farming lifestyle quoting Warren Buffet “Do what you love.” Stan passionately explained the importance of knowing your market, your crops, staying current with efficient watering techniques, and the economic influence their farms are to their community and nation. It was obvious to us that these men love what they do but they also innately understand the importance of protecting what they do. The responsibly to perserve these increasingly important family-owned farms doesn’t end there. As consumers we also need to know where our food comes from and to buy as locally as we can. More than just for the sentiment of buying local, supporting local farmer’s markets, fruit stands, and local grocery stores directly supports these farms, the countless jobs these farms provide, our local economy, diversity in the food market, and the ever important American dream.

After taking a look around the Mariani Nut Company and being a gifted a huge bag of walnuts, we drove home reflecting on the rich farming history in Winters, California full of gratitude for the hard work and dedication from these farmers and their families. Of course I couldn’t let that beautiful bag of  walnuts sit in my pantry for too long! I whipped up this easy spinach and walnut pesto for dinner the next night and I couldn’t help but smile knowing the food I was feeding my family was lovingly grown by generations of proud, hard working families just like mine.