Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Chilled Double Chocolate Torte

This is a great vegan, vegetarian, semi organic recipe.  A chilled double chocolate torte by Oh She Glows.  I followed her recipe 90% of the way but made a few substitutions.  We had to bring a dessert to a friends house for dinner and I had been waiting to make this torte.  There is a secret ingredient, can you guess?  Don't peek.  You'll never guess it.  Our dinner friends couldn't.

I'm not going to re type the recipe.  You can check out the site here.  I highly recommend it - lots of great food and fitness stuff.  Great blog!  So I didn't have spelt flour so used regular whole wheat & white (we ran out of whole wheat).  I also didn't have arrowroot powder so used cornstarch.  I think it came out well.  The secret ingredient?  Avocados!  It would have been vegan if I used vegan chocolate chips except those things are $6 for a bag.  Sorry but for me, not worth it.  I used Ghirardelli semi sweet on sale.  Some of my ingredients were organic as that's what we have on hand; some were not like cocoa powder.

This torte tasted pretty great!  I'm not sure what I was expecting but it was very chocolaty without being heavy.  It also had a strong peanut butter taste despite only have 1 tbsp in the entire recipe.  You could taste the avocados if you tried really hard.  You could taste them more as it warmed up.  I put 3 avocados in this thing!  I definitely recommend eating it chilled - not room temperature.  Even 5-10 minutes out of the freezer makes a difference.  Eat it almost frozen!  I'm not sure I'd make it again for ourselves.  Maybe for a pot luck or something so everyone could try it.  Overall it was pretty great.

Yumm dessert!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Organic Shampoo take two

Organic shampoo take two: I'm now on step 2 of my organic shampoo quest.  Sounds adventurous right?

A few weeks ago I picked up this organic shampoo/conditioner set at my local Lowes Foods.  The only reason I bought them was because they were on sale.  Remember I tried this product and liked it.  So why explore more?  A. try new things, B. provide good reviews on the blog, C. its' fun! D. they were on sale!

See!  On sale 50% off.  Can't beat that.  Our local grocery store was remodelling their healthy/beauty/seasonal front section of the store and apparently decided to get rid of all their organic health/beauty stuff.  Bummer in general but awesome for me!  They had A TON to pick through.  Four whole cart loads of perfectly good organic and semi organic shampoos, conditioners, soaps & lotions all marked down.  It was so fun looking through it all.  They also had random stuff like pot holders and medicine on sale but I didn't throw money at those. 

I picked through and found these two as my favorite.  They smell really nice and look like they'll do good for my hair (no volumizing, color treated benefits etc).  At essentially buy one get one free (off regular pricing) I just couldn't walk away with not getting something.  This was probably my only chance to get such a good deal on stuff like this. 

One of the main reasons I was having such a hard time starting my organic healthy/beauty quest was price.  Lets face it - we don't all have extra cash lying around ready to throw out all our old stuff and stock up on new more expensive stuff.  That just isn't an option.  However for me, researching, waiting to use up my old products, saving up our dollars (waiting for people to give me free stuff), waiting for deals to pop up and such are my method.  I feel good about starting to buy more health and eco conscious products on sale.  For me and our family we can't justify spending a lot of frivolous things - but organic shampoo - I deem not frivolous.

Now I checked Avalon Organic's website and found that this shampoo is technically made with 70% organic content.  That's okay with me.  Duh.  Semi organic over here!  The reason I'm willing to put my money towards this organic product vs a traditional shampoo is Avalon is:  

• Made with Consciousness in Cosmetics
• Minimum of 70% Organic Content
• No parabens or harsh preservatives
• No sodium lauryl or laureth sulfate
• No synthetic colors or fragrance
• No phthalates
• 100% Vegetarian ingredients
• No animal testing

I love all of this.  Also did I mention I love these products!  No really, I think I may love the way my hair looks even more than Panteen or Aveda.  Woah, it's (so far) that good.  Love this!

Monday, June 27, 2011

Bookcase redo

We did a little painting this past weekend and I finally got around to uploading the photos.  I seriously don't know what I'd do without my (our) iphones.  I'm up for a contract extension (and upgrade?) soon but don't think I'll get the iphone 4.  My 3GS is perfectly fine and since Tony has the 4 with our forces combined we can do anything.  Plus if a new iPhone 5 (or 6?) comes out anytime in the next year we'll save our dollars for that perhaps.  Maybe a combined birthday present from everyone I know.  Doubt it.  I better take good care of this phone since it'll be lasting me a long time.  Good thing it takes pretty good blog worthy photos!  Anyway... onward...

The before shot.  Disregard all the mess here.  This is bedroom number 2.  See that boring orangly colored fake wood bookcase - we thought we could brighten it up.  It originally came as a floor model from Staples or something years ago. 

We peeked in the mis-tints section and found a great color of blue we liked.  Anyone ever bought paint here?  Most home improvement/Walmart stores have them.  Just a bunch of paints that people custom tinted then changed their minds or whatever.  There was a decent amount to pick from.  There is no guarantee that whats on the label is anywhere close to whats inside - besides the color dot obvi.  I mean the type of paint is up for grabs.  We think we got a gloss or semi gloss in a midnight blue - ish color.  We we not picky.  This whole gallon was cheaper than a quart of the regular stuff so it was worth it even though we needed so little.  Guess we'll be using this blue for years to come! (hmmm hope someone we know has a boy and needs paint for his nursery or we go through a blue phase)

Tony came up with a genius idea to use this old salad container.  Organic of course.  Not sure if we can recycle this anymore though.  It came in handy with the lid and all.  I'd highly recommend it.  No rolling tray though.  Gotta make do. 

We had a lot of white already so chose to do the outside white and the back blue.  It took 3 coats of each and about an afternoon into evening.  Originally we thought to tape the outside to get straight edges but that didn't work out so well.  We did it by hand.  This process worked pretty well as long as you have a steady hand and can do the edges manually.  Turns out we perhaps should have primed it with oil based primer since it was laminate - oh well.  We forgot.  Actually we should have known since we used it back here.  Ehh. 

The after!  Not the glorious pretty after shot with things put back up like after shots are suppose to look but you get the idea.  It's bright and cheery and dry just in time to re stock it before we then pack everything away to move.  

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Anniversary Trip

Guess where we went to celebrate our First Anniversary?




We spent a week celebrating out first wedding anniversary and a friends' wedding out in San Francisco.  We saved all our dollars to afford this trip.  California isn't cheap!  As you can see we also travelled to Yosemite to hike to the top of Vernal Falls.  It was so beautiful!  Since it was only early June the waterfalls hadn't dried up from glacial snow melt so it was extra pretty.  And wet. 


Here we are about half way up the big hike to the top of one of the huge waterfalls.  The path goes along the side of the waterfall where the spray is enormous.  It was literally like walking through a shower!  As we hiked higher and higher we kept seeing people coming the other way down who were drenched.  I wore a rain coat but it didn't do much good.  Good thing the top had a gorgeous view and was sunny since we dried off quickly. 


We also went to go see the giant Sequoia Trees.  They were soooo big!  This photo above doesn't even encompass the enormity of it all.  That is like half of the tree base!  These trees are estimated to be about 1,800 years old!


By random luck we got to stop by the Berkeley Farmers' Market on Saturday morning.  We took the BART to Berkeley for the wedding and got to explore the west coast local produce.  Their pineapples and avocados were so cheap!  I got a savory vegetarian crepe for lunch - all organic of course and Tony got Indian.  It was great to be a hippie there for a few hours.  We were so excited about the market we travelled straight there with all our luggage.  People probably thought we were weird.  Not as weird as some lady asking if they sold bottled water at the farmers market.  GASP!!! Heck no this is Berkeley, we don't have bottled water for sale!!  We have lemonade in corn cups but that's it.  Phewyy, glad I didn't make that mistake.




We did all the touristy stuff on our trip in San Francisco too - ride the cable cars, see Fisherman's Wharf (see the sea lions), get samples at Giradelli and see The Golden Gate Bridge etc.


We had a spare day at the end of our trip before we had to return the rental car to the airport so we on the spur of the moment (aka not planned) we decided to do something fancy.  We did have to have Mariposa townie pizza and water on our actual anniversary the night before.  What extra fancy restaurants can you think of in that neck of the woods?  Well there's The French Laundry and Chez Panisse!  We've read enough foodie books to know those two and of course The French Laundry was booked - duh!  But we were able to get a lunch spot at Chez Panisse. 

We drove 4 hours to get there and I changed into a dress on the way so I'd look decent for Alice Waters.  The food was all very lovely and fashionably foodie while being normal enough to eat.  That's the 'cafe' menu for ya - the dinner menu is a bit more adventurous for many.  No Ms. Waters was not there.  We had a menu inspired by Jamie Oliver: baked Andante Dairy goat cheese with garden lettuces, an asparagus & risotto dish and tandoori chicken.  While it was all very good and delicious (including their house filtered and sparkled (is that a word?) water) it was naturally pricey for our budget.  Chez Panisse officially ends our 1 year of fancy dining

next up: A Lean Year.  Stay tuned.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Organic Shampoo Done

I've been wanting to try and switch to some more organic health and beauty products lately starting with shampoo.  Remember this and this?  I've done a fair (okay small) bit of research but still left confused where to start.  Luckily the fine folks at Eco Natural Soap started my journey off by offering some of their fabulous products.  My number one 'cantwaittotrythis' product - their Scalp & Hair Health Shampoo Bar.  
I was so excited to try these products out since they only have the highest quality ingredients and are all natural.  A family owned business they only use 100% organic ingredients.  I love this!!  Their products are so great that you're not paying for designer bottles that are 65-85% water, all you get is pure awesome soaps and shampoos.  Of course the little packaging they do have is recycled and recyclable.  I was so excited to try their stuff!

I'd never used a shampoo bar (bonus points to those who have!) and was a little nervous about how I should use it.  Should I try and create suds in my hand and transfer to my hair or rub a cube of soap on my head? 

Side story: I remember once as a small child thinking I could wash my own hair.  I squeezed a bottle of shampoo out onto my head.  Since I couldn't actually see the top of my head, I poured waaay to much thus running down my face into my eyes.  From that day on I vowed never to put shampoo on my head without seeing the quantity first.

I tried both sudzing in my hand method as well as rubbing on my scalp.  They both worked but rubbing the soap block on my head actually worked best.  You really don't need a lot since a little goes so far which is thriftably awesome.  Result?  I have to say that this product really works great!  I loved the subtle clean scent and awesome ingredients that make my hair feel soft and clean.  I love not putting tons of chemicals on my scalp and knowing that my hair and skin is being cleaned naturally. 

I did find that I need to use a conditioner after the shampoo but testimonials claim to not even need that after a while.  I'm excited to be able to use less products, save the money, have less chemicals on (and in!) me and still have good looking hair.  Thanks so much Eco Natural Soaps! 

I got a few more products of theirs such as body bar, hand balm and lip relief balm.  Yes they all rock as well!  For more info and to shop visit

*all photos taken by Tony Amato.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Summer Livings

A little update from around our house: we haven't killed our plants yet!  Great success!  Summer has been our friend and our plants'.  We love our little garden on our patio since the idea was to get some fresh organic produce and spices outside our door.  We've manged to keep a decent sized rosemary plant (mostly) alive since Christmas last year.  It helps us enjoy freshly chopped rosemary in foods when cooking.  The back half seems to have died but the front keeps on living!  While our garden isn't a luscious vegetable patch we've got a few things - rosemary, basil and :
We saved some seeds from a few summers ago when our garden was MUCH better.  We grew heirloom tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, carrots & basil in 2009.  They were awesome!  I can't wait to have another season like 2009.  We planted this pepper plant earlier this spring and it's finally got something blog worthy (known to all as actual vegetables).  Does this look weird?  I thought we were growing a jalapeno pepper plant but this looks strangely like a tomato!  I guess only time and summer will tell!

Our succulents are also doing well.  We put them outside for fresh air and light.  Also Cornelius was way to interested in them for his own good (or theirs). 

Check this out!!!  Our succulent is flowering!  I wasn't ready for this but so happy that its got pretty pink/yellow flowers blooming!  Yay for summer!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Target brand funny phrases

Has anyone ever noticed that Target's Up & Up brand products have funny sayings on them?  Maybe I really am the only one who looks this deep into generic brand products.  Somehow this fact makes me happy.  Take a peak at some shots I've taken of random Target brand items.  At first glance they're normal.  Then wait... does that say "brushing buddy" and "make up magician"?  Yep!

No clue why I had to share this but since it's right in front of all shoppers faces but I bet not many people notice I had to share!  It's like some secret nobody knows about like hidden easter eggs in movies and video games from the 90's.  I'd loved to have been the person who came up with these!  Or even the person who thought of the idea of even having these funny sayings on their products!  Genius and a comedian.

You'll find that not all products have hidden funny phrases - mostly medicine is excluded.  Anything it seems medical or having a formula or prescription or dosage info is sans funny phrase.  The rest of their Up & Up products - go wild 'fantastic elastic'!

Search your house - what funnies can you find?  Anyone else see this before but me?!

Monday, June 13, 2011

Happy First Anniversary

Happy Anniversary to my wonderful Husband Tony.  Today we celebrate our very first #1 of all time wedding anniversary.  I could not be happier today and to celebrate with you Tony just the two of us together.  (wonder where we've travelled to celebrate? - check back soon!)  May this be the first of *many more celebrations to come. 


Who can believe it's been a whole year?  It seems like just yesterday we were sweating through our layers in the 95 degree heat at our ceremony.  I almost cried when I realized you were wearing all the pieces of your three piece suits.  It made me that happy.  While it wasn't a total blur like everyone said it would be I wish we could go back and relive the day.  Despite the weather it was all perfect.  It was so much fun people still talk about how much fun they had today!  We did have cornhole after all!

Now that the wedding dust has finally settled and we're (perhaps) sick of looking at an entire wall of 'us' wedding photos we are moving on to bigger and better things.  New jobs and school, a new city, new home, new friends and a new life as newlyweds +1. 


In the traditional spirit of first wedding anniversaries lets talk gifts.  Of course prior to our actual official big day we already exchanged gifts.  Tony cannot wait when he's got gifts to give.  I try my hardest to postpone until whatever big day (xmas, bdays etc) we're celebrating but eventually give in.  I really like to open gifts on the actual day but it rarely ends up that way.  I got a wedding gift from him 7 months early!  First anniversary gifts are traditionally something paper related.  What did we exchange?  I gave T a mini leather notebook he uses at the hospital for his notes (or something!?).  I figured he'd need a new one when we move.  He got me a big fun rainbow set of note cards (awesome!) and what else?  A paper shredder!!!!  Ha!  We're awesome.  End of story.

I want this printed so we are reminded of it every day; because it's true.


*At least 80 more wedding anniversaries; then we'll reevaluate our situation.
photo credits: Sam Cooper.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Kohlrabi Latkes

While at the farmers market in Durham recently we got to try a free yummy dish from Chef Dave Alworth of Guglhupf Cafe.  Any local readers - you need to eat at Guglhupf's Cafe.  It's amazing.  So amazing that on our wedding day my MOH Kelly and I drove to get some pastries and coffee at 8am.  We got to the restaurant and there were ~30 people waiting lined up for Guglhuph's to open at 9am!  What is this an iPhone release date?  I was sad no pastries pre wedding but we had to get our pretty on so end of story. 

Anyway they have great food and a great chef that had a demo at the farmers market.  We got free samples as well as recipes passed out.  He cooked the food fresh on site in front of us.  We tasted these latkes and were hooked!  We had to try the recipe out ourselves.  Tony did all the cooking on this one since he was home while I was at work.  Also he took the photo, so basically 99% of the props go to him.  I did half the eating as well as this blogging.

Kohlrabi Latkes with Chapel Hill Creamery's Quark

Source: Recipe by Chef Dave Alworth, Guglhupf Cafe; Chef in the Market, May 28th, 2011

                     1 Large Kohlrabi – Trimmed
1 Large Russet Potato - about two thirds the size of the Kohlrabi
2 Tablespoons MINCED SHALLOT
4 EGGS – Beaten
2 Tablespoons FLOUR
2 Teaspoons KOSHER SALT
Pinch Fresh Ground BLACK PEPPER
2 Tablespoons OLIVE OIL – For Frying
A Small Nub of BUTTER – For Frying
                     Prepare all of the ingredients and set aside. Grate the Kohlrabi and the Potato on the largest holes of a box grater and place in the center of a clean dish towel. Squeeze as much liquid out of the potato and kohlrabi as possible. Fold the rest of the ingredients together with the potato and kohlrabi in a mixing bowl and set aside.

Add the oil and butter to a skillet and heat until it begins to shimmer. Scoop in a couple of ounces of the batter per cake and shape with the back of your spoon. Pan-fry undisturbed for 2 or 3 minutes and flip. Remove to a paper towel lined plate and repeat. Garnish with quark, creme fraiche, smoke salmon, sour cream an caviar or whatever your heart’s desire may be.

Kohlrabi also known as 'German Turnip' straight from the farmers market.  If you're like me you've probably never heard of kohlrabi; it's okay I'm here to tell you it's yum!  This pick of produce is in the broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, kale realm of the vegetable spectrum.  Kohlrabi was created by artificial selection and very similar to the wild cabbage plant.  The texture is similar to broccoli stalk.  It can be eaten raw or cooked.  It adds a nice crunch to things like salads. 

We made the kohlrabi latkes but didn't have any Chapel Hill Creamery (yumm) quark.  T made some cheesy grits with zucchini, broccoli and fresh red pepper strips for the latkes to sit on.  We had a little tomato sauce garnish and basil.  Fresh basil makes everything better.  Oh and a decorative accoutrement of cilantro pesto and hummus.  

Just another vegetarian dinner here at the A household.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Blog Love

I just realized that I have written over 100 blog posts!  No clue it had been that long - oh how time flies.  I've got many more in store for ya!  Thanks for everyone who reads my blog and thanks for being a 'follower'.  I love seeing that little follower number go up!  Click 'Follow' and become my newest best blog friend. 

Also 56 bonus points to everyone who's commented on my blog.  I love comments! 

Gotta love wedding photobooth fun!  Why did we not have one of these?!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

For the love of google maps

Since I love all things Google I thought I'd share something I found recently with the blog world.  I seriously do love Google- why do I not work for them yet?!  I'd be just my luck that everyone already knows about this feature since I'm not always the first to be informed on these issues.  Why isn't Larry Page texting me saying 'just launched new 45 degree angle view on google maps, check it out!".  Dunno why.  But I sure did find this awesome gem.  What is it?  A 45 degree view on google maps!

Probably anyone (who's reading this blog) is aware of google maps.  You can look at regular map view, aerial view and even street view for most locations in the USA & World.  Sorry if you live in a place with no street view - that must suck a little.  You are missing the chance to google your house and see your car in the driveway - license plate and all faces blurred obvi.

Anyway now you can check out another view of the world.  45 degrees aerial view!  I'm not sure it's available yet everywhere.  To check it out just go to and zoom in somewhere.  You have to be pretty close in then once you get to a certain point in aerial view the 45 degrees view will appear.  Then you can zoom in more and get a much clearer picture of an area.  I feel that this new 45 degree angle is the best for checking out somewhere new.  It gives you a clear idea of the whole area as well as the sides of buildings.  Rather than just looking at the outlines of the roofs or the close up of the streets from 6 feet off the ground - this is the perfect combo!

Obviously I'm loving this feature in our search for a new rental place for when we move (next month?).  Eak!  That's soon.  I better get back to checking out houses and neighborhoods.  Just thought I should share this.  Gotta love Google!

Monday, June 6, 2011

Spring Cleaning

Remember our Get rid of 100 things list?  We're making big progress around here.  A couple weeks back we had a big spring cleaning day.  We went through our stuff and seriously purged.  It felt good to get rid of stuff we don't really need.  I personally find it so easy to be materialistic and gimme gimme gimme with things.  That includes holding onto things I haven't touched in years.  There is no need to keep that stuff around.  Especially when we've both moved a few times in the last 5 years and are moving again next month! 

We have no clue how big our new place will be or if there will be good closets or basement or attic storage space.  Best to get rid of stuff now before we are forced to make tough decisions.

The whole process wasn't easy.  I had to try hard to let somethings go and others I was ready to toss in the donate pile.  We had old clothes out of fashion, many kitchen items and random nick knacks that always passed the keep test in years past.  Now we took a good hard look at everything and decided if we needed the items or not.  It was very freeing and liberating not to be attached to junk you don't need.  We trashed some stuff that was useless and donated most of it to our local goodwill.  It will hopefully make someone happy.

See full list below of all items.  Honestly there was more we got rid of that I forgot when making the list.  And of course - as soon as we got home I found more things to donate.  More clothes, an ipod charger that doesn't work and other useless to us stuff.  Doesn't it always work that way?!
pillows, luggage, clothes

Yep - too much junk!  Where did we even put all this stuff??

I tried to save the portable CD player but Tony convinced me we'd never use it.  Probably true.  I did (only 2 years ago) use it while doing field work to listen to library audiobooks on cd.  I at least pulled the batteries out before donating it.  Lol pink stethescope - it didn't work well.
Cell phone graveyard.  I thought about keeping at least one of these babies in case one our iPhones ever died and we need an emergency back up phone or a few hours or days.  With AT&T you can simply pop the sim card out and into another phone and BAM you're in business.  Since we had no clue where the chargers were and were on a purging roll we let them all go.  Must take soon to a cell phone recycling bin - at Best Buy or Walmart?

An old coffee table that belonged to my dad during his bachelor days.  We returned it to them.
goodbye stuff.  we loved you.
that giant red bag came in handy for transportation.

1pizza board
5wine glasses
4pint glasses
1brita pitcher
1mini egg fry pan
2water bottles
3mini baking dishes
2bottle openers
1knife block
1serving dish
6 mixing bowl lids
1 too small frother cup
1tiny wisk
1pair flip flops
3toiletry bags
2toothbrush holders
1trimmer kit
1red basket
3old license plates
1radioshack cord
8candle jars
1fabric flower pin
1old DVD remote control
2ipod chargers
1pair old headphones
4photo frames
1lunch bag
DVDs sold on Amazon
1coffee table
2bar chairs
1bar stool
1broken camcorder
1old point and shoot
1tan vase
1wall hook
5cell phones
The Random
1pack of duvet grips
2cd walkmans
1giant red bag
1set of Chinese clinking balls
1Buckeyes parking sign
1giant map of the world
4wedding candy jars
3candy scoops
2candle sticks
1valentines decorative box
1dried wedding bouquet

Our total: 124 items!  Yay!

Friday, June 3, 2011

Book Club 2011

This is an update of all the books I've read so far this year.  As you can see - I like to read.  True, many of these were 'read' by audiobook.  I still count that as reading.  I have a 35 minute commute to work and love listening to audiobooks while driving. 

19 Minutes – Jodi Picoult
*The China Study – T. Colin Campbell
Sarah’s Key – Tatiana de Rosnay
Lift – Kelly Corrigan
Water for Elephants – Sara Gruen
Say You’re One Of Them – Uwem Akpan
At Home – Bill Bryson
A Reliable Wife – Robert Goolrick
Bikram Yoga: The Guru Behind Hot Yoga Shows the Way to Radiant Health and Personal Fulfillment – Bikram Choudhury
What Remains – Carole Radziwill
Medium Raw – Anthony Bourdain
The Pact – Jodi Picoult
Bossypants – Tina Fey
*A walk in the Woods – Bill Bryson
*The Alchemist – Paulo Coelho

*Books yet to finish.  The last two are both almost done. 

My favorite so far this year?  At Home by Bill Bryson.  It's so very interesting in that nerdy, history buff, society, culture way.  I highly recommend it.  Least favorite?  Water for Elephants.  It was just okay.  I didn't like the fact that some guy was having an affair with a married woman and it was okay since the husband had a mental disorder and didn't deserve her anyway.  Sorry, maybe I took the wrong things out of it since everyone else seems to rave about Water for Elephants.  I'll wait till the movie comes on our Redbox to see it.

What book recommendations should I read next?


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