Friday, July 29, 2011

Wedding Guest Dos and Don'ts

So this weekend Melissa and Andy will tie the knot! In honor of their upcoming nuptials, here is a great article to help you be a perfect wedding guest.

Regardless if you are a wedding guest or planning your own trip to the alter, don't miss out on my other wedding related posts!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Product Placement Wednesday - Trader Joe's Flower Pepper

This week is back to "normal" for Product Placement Wednesday and I have a wonderful new product for you! Trader Joe's has recently released Flower Pepper complete with grinder. The blend includes black peppercorns, rose petals, calendula, lavender and cornflower. Floral flavors can be tricky to use but the black peppercorn makes it a little less intimidating.

There are so many uses for this product but so far I have found myself using primarily on salads. I look forward to using it as a crust for a goat cheese medallion and to season roast chicken. It would also make a nice savory addition to certain desserts. I envision somesort of vanilla and lavender dessert (possibly a creme brulee) with a light dusting of this pepper. I had this amazing lavender ice cream at The Foundry once that would probably also be an excellent balance to this pepper. I feel you are only limited by your imagination and willingness to experiment! Be sure to let me know what you try it on!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Happy Half-Birthday To Me!

Today is my half-birthday and I technically was another half year older at 3.03pm ET. Growing up we always celebrated our half-birthdays. My brother's half-birthday is a few weeks after mine and we would have a cake at that time since my parents didn't want to create two half-birthday cakes. Too bad they didn't think of this idea at the time!

There is a great photo somewhere of me and my brother with our half-birthday sheet cake. We were each able to decorate half of the cake. Unfortunately this photo has disappeared into somesort of other universe since no one can find it. Most years (UNLIKE this year) my parents will still call me on my half-birthday just to wish me a happy half-birthday. It may seem silly but it is nice to get that warm birthday feeling when your big day is still very far away.

So that brings me to the point of this entry. We need to celebrate more half-birthdays! Half-birthdays are great for kids because they love getting older. Having a half-birthday mini-celebration reminds them that they are on track. Those of us that are not as thrilled with getting older can still celebrate! This is proof that we have MADE IT another 6 months - something that gets more and more important the older we get.

Presents are not necessary for the half-birthday but a half dozen roses or a half carat diamond are always lovely gifts. If nothing else, it gives your friends and family the six month warning that your birthday is coming up so they can start their shopping before all the good gifts are taken. Of course I know that you are all experts in gift giving since you read my previous entry on the topic!

With that in mind, please indulge me while I share a few items from my "wish list". These are all on the higher end but they would make great group gifts so start planning now! :)

Barbie Dream House

Guns N Roses Pinball

Savannah Cat

Not too much to ask for right? Okay, maybe a little bit out there. Maybe some cake pops from Surprise Surprise Bake Shop would be more appropriate for a half-birthday? What outlandish things would love to get for your birthday (or half-birthday)? Remember you do not need to be registered to post on this blog! I love hearing from you!

Monday, July 25, 2011

The Bachelorette Dinner, Part 4

Last week we skipped dinner due to scheduling challenges but that doesn't mean we needed to skip dessert! Popsicles are a quintessential summer treat and so easy to make yourself. Plus homemade popsicles are much more nutritious than the store bought variety. A few months ago, I shared my simple recipe for yogurt popsicles during The Bachelor Dinner, Part 3. This time the pops are dairy free and have only two ingredients!

Simple Strawberry Popsicles
Note - Quantity of ingredients will vary based on the number of popsicles and size of mold.

Fresh Strawberries
Sugar Free Lemon-Lime Flavored Sparkling Water (seltzer water can be substituted but you will need to add a bit of sweetener)

1. Place clean, de-stemmed strawberries into blender.
2. Add sparkling water until the berries are half covered.
3. Blend to your desired consistency and add more water if needed.
4. Strain seeds if desired.
5. Pour into popsicle molds.
6. Freeze.

I created this recipe when I had strawberries to quickly use up but I think it would work well with other fruit/water combos. Blueberry and lemon sound particularly good to me!

My molds were from IKEA but I found these cute molds at Bed, Bath & Beyond and

Has anyone else created any fun popsicle recipes this summer? Are you too busy or lazy to make your own popsicles? Check out Trader Joe's Peach Pops!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Anti-Product Placement Wednesday - Dog Strollers

This past week someone asked me if I ever do negative reviews. While I feel that it goes against the idea of "Product Placement Wednesday," when inspiration hits, you can't fight it.

Yesterday I saw a woman pushing a dog stroller at The Grove. That's right a DOG STROLLER. Yes, I have seen this monstrosity before and it was appalling then too. This little tiny dog was just cruising along like it was a small child. I did not grow up with dogs but from what I know of dog owners is that most people treat their dog like a dog. Now I know there are all kinds of ways to treat your dog more like a person like giving them a mani/pedi or taking them to the shrink - I think that is weird too but the dog stroller pushes me over the edge. I am a cat person and I would never do anything other than treat it like a cat (except maybe teach it to pee in the toilet or walk on a leash).

I found this blog post titled 16 Reasons to Use a Dog Stroller on a site that - you guessed it - sells dog strollers! Why does your dog need to go everywhere with you? Are all dogs too lazy to walk? Even if your dog is elderly, the dog stroller just seems like a cruel way to taunt them about how they used to have legs that would take them for long walks.

So instead of encouraging you to by a product today, I am encouraging you to have a little self respect - if not for you then for your dog - and run away from the dog stroller craze!

Have you already given in and are cruising around town with your dog waving to passersby? Tell me why this item works for you. I am dying to know.

Maybe "Anti-Product Placement Wednesday" should just be "Crazy Rant Wednesday"?

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Bachelorette Dinner, Part 3

So there is a pretty good chance I am losing my mind. I SWEAR I posted this entry but apparently only in Gretchenland. I know I had intended to post it prior to the 4th of July weekend because it would have been perfect for all of your outdoor soirees. Alas, you will just have to have more fabulous people over this weekend and give it a whirl. Trust me when I say that the photo does not do these dishes justice. I am still working on my food photography skills. :)

Salmon "Pistou"
Note: This is not a traditional Pistou but is a great compliment to the salmon.

16 oz salmon, approximate
1/3 cup dill, chopped
1/3 cup green onion, chopped
1/3 cup pistachios, toasted & chopped
1/4 cup olive oil

1. Combine all ingredients except for the salmon and set aside. Pistou can be made up to 2 hours in advance.
2. Grill salmon to desired temperature.
3. Top salmon with pistou.
4. Slice and serve.

Serves 4 (makes great leftovers!)

Whole Foods Kalameta Olive and Feta Couscous
Note: This is a copycat version of a prepared food item at Whole Foods. The portions of each ingredient were approximated based on taste.

1 cup of whole wheat couscous (use butter or oil per instructions on box)
1/3 cup red (or red and orange) peppers, chopped
1/3 cup red onion, chopped
1/3 cup fat free feta (regular feta can be used too)
1/3 cup kalamata olives, chopped
1 teaspoon fresh oregano, chopped and approximate (dried can be used instead but it is not as good and requires a lot more to get the desired flavor)
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
1/4 cup olive oil, approximate
1/8 cup balsamic vinegar, approximate
fresh ground sea salt

1. Prepare couscous per package instructions using either butter or oil. Allow to cool to room temperature.
2. Mix red peppers, onions, feta, kalamata olives, oregano, and parsley with couscous.
3. Combine olive oil and balsamic vinegar in a separate bowl. Pour onto couscous.
4. Combine dry couscous salad and dressing well.
5. Grind (or sprinkle) sea salt on top and mix well.
6. Taste and adjust seasoning or dressing as needed.

Serves 8 sides (at least)

Besides these delightful items, we enjoyed Trader Joe's Tomato and Olive Focaccia Bread (which while not low calorie is extremely delicious and made a great sandwich the next day).

As is par for the course this season, our meal outshined The Bachelorette. When I say outshined, I am referring to how the sun outshines a mud puddle. Will we keep watching? Of course. It is like that proverbial train wreck and we can't look away.

Friday, July 15, 2011

What To Do With An Old Bridesmaid Dress and Other Wedding Related News

What To Do With An Old Bridesmaid Dress

Like me, I am sure many of you have stood up for a friend or two as they started down the path of married life. If you are a guy, you have it easy (and much less expensive) than the ladies. Rent a tux and done. As my female readers know, we must purchase a dress that we will unlikely wear again. Out of six weddings, only one bridesmaid dress is one that I plan to wear again (hopefully on September 10, 2011!). Many people have a closet full of dresses much like Katherine Heigl in 27 Dresses. So today we will explore some options for those never to be worn again frocks!

This is a tricky option but can help you recoup a little cash for your dress. Your success at consignment is going to have a lot to do with the style and color of your dress. Could it pass for a prom dress or special occasion dress? Then you will have better luck. One of my dresses sold for $80 and I made $40. My initial investment before alterations was $130 so I was able to recoup a third of the cost. Be sure you understand all of the perimeters at the consignment shop so that there are no surprises on the back end. The particular shop I used had a window of time that they would try to sell your dress. Once that time was up, you had to pick up the dress or they would donate it to charity.

Personally this is one of my favorite options. There are wonderful organizations all of over the country that collect old prom, bridesmaid, and other special occasion dresses and provide them to underprivileged high school girls so that they can attend prom in style. Some of these organizations will also take shoes and accessories so it can be a one stop to donate an entire look. There are several sites that will help you find places to donate but seems to be the most comprehensive.

I recently learned of a company that will allow you to exchange a bridesmaid dress for a new, stylish, black dress. NewlyMaid only accepts dresses that are in top condition (no rips, stains, etc) but in exchange for your old dress you will get a significant discount on one of their new dresses. The old dresses are either recycled into new yarn or donated to charity. Check out their site for additional details.

This option only really works if you are crafty but can be the most fun! I have a dress that unfortunately has permanent stains on it do to a fellow bridesmaid's inability to hold her liquor. NONE of the other options will work with this particular dress so I am probably going to eventually turn it into a Halloween costume. If your dress has a large stain free area to work with, the fabric can be turned into a variety of items - pillows, skirt, top, wrap, table runner, etc. The only limit is your creativity!

Hopefully you have lucked out and your dress is as fashion forward as our dresses from this Fall 2009 wedding!

Other Wedding Related News

A few weeks ago I blogged about wedding gifting. Real Simple has also published their take on these age old questions. What do you think? Did they get it right?

TOMS Wedding Shoes
TOMS shoes is now offering a wedding collection. Perfect for the couple that wants to put a eco/philanthropy spin on their special day. As you may recall, TOMS donates one pair of shoes for every pair purchased to a child in need. Personally, I have never worn this brand of shoes but they look very comfortable. Even for the bride that wants a sexier shoe for the ceremony and photos might enjoy changing into these little flats once the dancing kicks off!

Heather - today's entry is for you! Thanks for being a loyal reader!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Product Placement Wednesday - Digital Luggage Scale

As anyone who has traveled with me knows, I am not a light packer. I think this is either a genetic or learned behavior as my parents are also challenged in this area. Whenever I travel, I play the baggage weight game (with my checked bag) which is a lot like flipping a coin to see if I am a winner - it usually goes about 50/50. It is an exciting moment when the scale reads 50.1 lbs and they let it slide. I have even learned to keep an extra tote bag in my suitcase in case I have to pull items out (after having learned the hard way with a flimsy plastic bag from the airline). I do try to be proactive and use a scale but it is not an exact science. Weigh yourself, weigh yourself holding the bag, subtract, and cross fingers.

I am excited to share a product that will eliminate this challenge from my life and hopefully other chronic overpackers out there - the Digital Luggage Scale! This helpful handheld scale will weigh bags up to 75 lbs (let's face it, if you are unable to tell that your bag is overweight and it is more than 75 lbs then you might have some other challenges beyond overpacking). It is lightweight and compact so you MIGHT even be able to find room for it in your bag. This particular model is from Brookstone but there are a variety of manufacturers that sell similar products.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Farmers Market + Pantry = Dinner

A couple weeks ago Katie and I decided to throw some dinner together based on what I had in my fridge/pantry and what she had leftover from a farmers market cooking demonstration. The result was a delicious, healthy summer pasta dish! We enjoyed the recipe below with veggie sausage (her) and turkey meatballs (me) but it would also be wonderful on its own or with chicken.

Fresh Vegetable Pasta
1 cup whole wheat pasta (we used rotelle but you can use whichever you prefer) - This amount is approximate as you may prefer a higher pasta to topping ratio or like me you like a little leftover pasta to enjoy later in the week.
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 zucchini, chopped
1 white squash, chopped
3 artichoke hearts, chopped
2 handfuls cherry tomatoes
15 kalamata olives, pitted
6 large basil leaves, chiffionade
1/3 cup fat free feta
garlic olive oil (We used Trader Joe's)
fresh ground sea salt

1. Cook pasta according to directions.
2. Saute garlic, zucchini, and white squash.
3. When pasta and vegetables are almost ready, add artichoke hearts, cherry tomatoes, kalamata olives and basil to the sauteed vegetables. Heat through.
4. Top pasta with vegetable mixture and sprinkle with fat free feta and drizzle with garlic olive oil.
5. Add a protein if desired.

Serves 2

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Product Placement Wednesday - Surprise Surprise Bake Shop Cake Pops

I realize I am a day belated for Product Placement Wednesday but unfortunately I was away from my computer all day yesterday (read: at Disneyland). Of course like when a birthday gift is belated, it always nice to be sure to give the recipient something extra nice. So I am going to do just that! There is a special bonus regarding this week's product! Read on to learn more....

Cake pops are not a new invention but continue to grow in popularity. If you have never had a cake pop, you are missing out! The basics - cake and frosting join forces to create a delicious round cake on a stick. It is then dipped in chocolate and topped with any number of toppings.

I recently had the great pleasure of enjoying some amazing cake pops from Surprise Surprise Bake Shop. I tried the Southern Red Velvet, Carrot Cake, and Snickerdoodle pops and they were all amazing. I don't even really like Carrot Cake but if it always tasted like this cake pop I would eat it more often! I am very curious about the Chocolate Nutella and Birthday Cake pops too. Ok, who am I kidding? I want to eat them all!

Besides traditional cake pops, I love that Surprise Surprise also offers a vegan version. With more and more people leading vegetarian and vegan lifestyles, I think that more establishments need to incorporate this into their existing menus.

Surprise Surprise does not stop there! They also offer cheesecake, brownie and cereal treat pops (Mom - Mocha Cheesecake Pops for your birthday next year?). You can also rent a tower to display your pops at your next gathering or have them create an arrangement on your behalf.

And now for the best part - Surprise Surprise is giving On The Tart Side readers three additional pops with any order! These are there new featured flavors so you will be one of the first to try them! All you have to do is mention On The Tart Side when ordering.

Be sure to let me know which flavor(s) you like best!