Healthy dark chocolate brownie bites

While we were gone on vacation our neighbor was nice enough to check in on our cats. He’s got two cats of his own, which makes it a pretty good deal. When he goes out-of-town, we take care of his cats. And when we go away, he makes sure ours haven’t eaten each other. But I still try to find a way to thank him, which usually includes making something sweet as a special thank you treat.

The other day when I saw him he was pretty insistent on not wanting any tasty goodies, complaining that he needed to cut back on all the sweet and salty snacking.

Challenge on.

I’m quite familiar with the brownie mix you can get from one of my favorite stores, which is low in calories and made with yogurt instead of butter or eggs, and figured I could make my own – but with less sugar and flour. I played around with the ingredients and came up with something really dark and rich without all those big calorie and carb players. Because these little goodies are low in sugar and flour, they have a big cocoa flavor – so toss in some extra honey or agave if you want something really super-sweet.


3/4 cup unsweetened baking cocoa

3/4 cup flour

1/3 cup sugar

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon baking powder

Dash of salt

1 cup plain thick-style yogurt

1 teaspoon honey

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1 tablespoon coffee (or water)

1/4 teaspoon vanilla

1/2 cup chocolate chips

What you do

Preheat your oven to 350F and get out a mini muffin tin. Now go ahead and measure and add all the dry ingredients (cocoa, flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt) and give a good stir making sure to break up all those bits of cocoa.

Measure and add the rest of the stuff and give a good stir, making sure there aren’t any clumps, creating a nice and thick batter. It’s that easy.

Grease your tins with spray or veggie oil (this recipe will fill two mini (or regular size) tins) and then scoop and drop a small spoonful of batter into each open spot.

Pop the dark chocolate brownie bites into the oven for 12-15 minutes. Once the tops are nice and toasty, they’re good to go. If you prefer cake-ier brownies, let them hang out in the oven for a couple of minutes longer.

Remove the goodies and let cool in the tins for 5-minutes and then slide slide the dark chocolate brownie bites out with a butter knife. This recipe makes about 24 mini brownie bites, perfect for snacking or an after dinner indulgence.



Do you know the way to San Jose…..

Today has been a day. After waking with the sun (and the tot), the hubs and I did some research hunting for a fun and tasty restaurant near the San Jose airport. Why? Let’s just say we had a good friend flying in from the east coast and had a few hours to hang in San Jose.

Being from a bit more north than San Jose, we had no idea where to start.

When I did the initial search, In-N-Out, Chevron, and Mc D’s popped up, which aren’t the best locations for a leisurely and flavorful lunch, and introduction to the (extended) Bay Area for our friend.

As we headed out, I channeled my inner positivity and super-duper wished for something amazing to be hiding around-and-about the San Jose International (yeah, that’s right, International) airport.

And, then, there it was. Lillie Mae’s House of Soul Food.

Smoke was billowing in the sky and you could smell it. SMELL IT.

A hut of a place on the side of the airport beckoned us off the road. Sure, you could still see the air traffic control tower from the parking lot. Yes, the planes were just barely buzzing over the roof of the restaurant. Yup, the place looked like it might fall over…

But, in the time we waited for our friend to get himself off the plane and into his rental car, the parking lot over-loaded with cars and people and families and more cars of people continuously charging into the place. With a bit of outdoor seating, Lillie Mae’s has enough space to maybe sit 75 (and a staff that has no clue what’s going on) and food that will leave you thinking about it days later.

The guys out back were basting and turning the ribs, the bustling staff behind the tall bar (in front of the awesomely big fish tank) fresh-fryed the crispy cornmeal coated catfish by order, and someone somewhere was making the most amazing mac-n-cheese you will ever have ever – just ethereal. Because it was one of their first Sunday buffet seatings (and half of the restaurant was reserved for a private birthday party) no one really seemed to know what was happening, but it all worked out.

Fried chicken. BBQ ribs. Corn on the cob. Mac-n-cheese. CORNBREAD. Biscuits and gravy. Fried catfish. FRIED CATFISH. And more. Yes, I know. You are wondering why I don’t have pictures of the food to share. (I totally forgot because I was in food nirvana.)

The place was packed beyond packed.  You can get a beer or a soda at the House of Soul Food, order at the counter for take-out or eat-in, or watch the game on the big-screen TV. This place is literally next-door to the airport and it kicks In-N-Out’s ass any day.

So the next time you fly into the San Jose International airport, are picking someone up, or in the area for any reason, stop in to Lillie Mae’s House of Soul Food and try a brisket platter or sample some biscuits and gravy. Make it a Sunday destination for the ($20 a plate but worth it) Sunday Brunch Buffet. Get some ribs that will make your hands smell all day…

This place is out of control.

For reals.

Spring green veggie prints (and snacks!)

We’ve had a few glorious days up here and all the cherry blossoms are out making me feel like it’s already spring. The tot and I have enjoyed getting back outdoors and starting our garden. While planting our new strawberry plants I had an idea for an art activity that might also introduce her to a few new things to eat.

Spring green veggie prints.

I dug around in the fridge for all things veggie and green, and then we walked on over to the local grocery store to pick up a few additional seasonal goodies. With some fresh asparagus and peas in our bag, we headed home. This is a fun art activity to do with kids of all ages. The really young can go nuts stamping with the veggies, creating random collections of shapes and older kids can spend more time concentrating on the creation of a unified and balanced finish artwork.

Start by gathering together all the green veggies you have. We used broccoli, asparagus, cucumber, celery, peas, and spinach leaves. If your child is old enough, allow them to slice some of the vegetables for creating better prints (with supervision, of course!). We sliced the broccoli and cucumber to reveal a flat surface to print. We also opened up one of the peas to create a unique pattern.

Get out some green paint – tempera or watercolor – and begin slathering it on with a brush. Now your child can gently press the spring green vegetables onto a white sheet of paper, revealing a fun print.

Keep painting and printing until the entire paper is covered. Once the paper is dry, older kids can hone writing and language skills by using a black marker to label one of each of the prints.

But, that’s not all – gather everyone around for a spring green veggie snack! Place a few samples of the vegetables you used for making the prints (fresh ones – not the painted ones!), and invite your child to take a taste. You can even mix up a simple dip using plain yogurt, dill, salt and pepper, or dip in one of your favorite salad dressings.

My tot gave fresh peas a try for the first time…

Happy spring!

Roasted corn chowder

I’ve been really into soup lately. It’s all soothing and nourishing, and super healthy for you when you make it yourself (unless it’s cream based, of course). One of my favorites is roasted corn chowder. It’s full of natural flavor as well as being beautifully creamy – and still healthy! The trick to this soup is roasting the veggies until they are nice and toasty, which creates an amazing base flavor.

This soup is made with just a few ingredients and a couple of steps. Don’t freak out, but part of the deal is making a roux. Sure, that’s a fancy schmancy French thing, but it’s easier than you think. I’m including step by step pictures in the directions to help you along the way. Yes, that means there is whole milk and butter in this soup (which doesn’t sound all that healthy) but once all those veggies are added in, plus some other stuff, you’ve still got one fit as a fiddle soup that’s ready to eat in 30-minutes.

What you need

1 lb frozen corn

1 small onion chopped

2 celery stalks cleaned and chopped

1 carrot chopped

1 teaspoon vegetable oil

1 teaspoon water

Dash of salt and pepper

2 cloves garlic chopped

1 tablespoon butter

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons flour

3 cups whole milk

Additional salt and pepper

Hot sauce

How to make the goodness

Start by cranking your oven to 425 F and then chopping up the carrot, celery, and onion, and tossing them onto a big sheet pan along with the corn. Drizzle with the teaspoon of veg oil and water and liberally sprinkle with salt and pepper, and then pop into that hot oven for about 20-minutes. You can check on them in a bit.

Okay, now it’s time to start that roux. Toss together the salt, tablespoon of butter and oil into a nice soup pot. Warm over medium-high heat until things are all melty and then add the chopped garlic and flour. Give things a little stir….

Now let the flour, butter, and oil simmer together for about 2-minutes or so. Give things a stir – you don’t want this to start browning, just bubble a bit.

Go ahead and measure and add the milk and give the mixture a stir. Turn the heat down to medium and keep an eye on things. This the perfect time to check your veggies and give them a big stir.

A roux is a way to thicken a soup and right now things aren’t looking that way. The thing is, the milk needs to get nice and hot to work together properly with the butter and flour. But you don’t want things to start boiling, which might ruin your roux. Just keep an eye on things while stirring and, before you know it, you’ll notice that the liquid will start thickening up…

Once the roux pulls together, you can turn the heat way down to low – or even off – and pay attention to those veggies. If they’ve started to brown on the edges, you are ready to go. Pull them out and measure and reserve 1-cup of the veggies. The rest can go into your hot pot of happy milk.

Get out your boat motor (a.k.a hand mixer) and blend together the veggies and milk – otherwise you can puree in batches in your blender, and then add back to your soup pot. Give your soup a taste test and add additional salt to pepper as needed. Hey, if you like things spicy, dash in some hot sauce or sprinkle in some red pepper flakes.

Now mix in the cup of reserved veggies, add 1-cup of water, and bring the soup back to a low simmer over medium heat. Once things are hot and bubbly, ladle up a bowl and enjoy.

Dinner every night: The Valentine’s Day edition

It was a bit of a challenging week. We just got back from vacation and then had a day to flip and head back to our regular routines. I’ll be honest – we all had a pretty hard time adjusting. The tot wanted to go back to Gamma and Opa’s house at the beach (which she told me over and over and over and over again) and I was having a difficult time getting motivated about anything.

Oh well.

After moping around most of the day on Monday and then having an action-packed Tuesday, it almost slipped my mind that it was Valentine’s Day. YUP. I really almost forgot. The husband and I don’t really do much of anything for each other (although he is pretty good at providing me with flowers and some amazing chocolate), but I did want to make something tasty for dinner. I made a last minute run to the grocery store and found some fresh clams at the grocery store – yum.

The week continued on without much else of interest. We had a nice lunch with friends at our new favorite restaurant, Miller’s East Coast Deli, which was totally tasty and ended with the befuddling experience of watching a very, very old man back up and then slowly pull forward repeatedly while just barely grazing the car next to him. We all stood a bit wide-eyed trying to figure out what to do alongside a nice group of people. Eventually someone helped the guy back out of the parking spot, he screamed off (at a big whopping 4-miles an hour) jabbering in some unknown language, and the woman walked up to her car, jumped in – without blinking an eye, and drove off.


This all happened before any of us had a chance to even tell her what happened – or determining what the proper action was for dealing with the nonsensical driver.

(I’m sure we will all be highlighted on one of those exposes showcasing people behaving badly.)

The winner this week was our spaghetti squash dinner – it was so good! Look for the recipe coming soon…

Don’t forget to link up your favorite recipe of the week below!

*Top row from left to right: Leftover try-tip tacos with veggie beans, garlic and white wine steamed clams with asparagus, capellini, and garlic toast, rosemary, oregano chicken breasts over carrot and celery lentils. Bottom row from left to right: spaghetti squash with fresh tomato sauce, spinach and Wisconsin mozzarella, homemade beef and broccoli over white rice, oregano garlic chicken thighs and zucchini fries.


Fine art for kids: Sand painting with Robert Smithson

While on vacation (and staring at the beautiful ocean last week) I was reminded of a few really stellar outdoor installation artists and the amazing natural materials that can be used to get creative. The tot spent hours and hours finding sticks to use for drawing in the sand, and the last day of our vacation, really got into collecting rocks, checking them out, and then giving them a toss into the big collections rocks around the beach.

(which was okay because there was seriously no one else on the beach otherwise throwing rocks would have been a big no-no….)

Since we’ve been home, no one’s been really excited with our “real lives.” The beach was awesome, and who doesn’t love spending hours and hours on a desolated stretch of beach lounging about while chatting and reading and watching the tot do silly dances while loudly chanting the A,B,C’s? So the other afternoon during what should’ve been nap time (but had turned into toddler tantrum time) I got out the trusty laptop and scooped up the tot to check out a few examples of outdoor installation art by Robert Smithson.

Born in New Jersey, this American artist is not only an artist artist, but also a published author. From poems to prose to outdoor installations, Smithson was a busy guy. His famous work, Spiral Jetty, was completed in 1970, created with mud and salt crystals in Utah’s Great Salt Lake. This curving length of sometimes exposed man-made earth was one of Smithson’s final creations and took six days to complete. After the tot and I spent a few moments checking out the different images of the Spiral Jetty, I shuffled her over to the table to get started on our own Robert Smithson inspired creations.

Offer your child a sheet of white paper and a set of watercolor paints, a small container of water, and a big paintbrush. For the younger kiddies, this is a great opportunity for building color recognition skills. Invite your child to coat her paper with only blue watercolor paint. Older kids can concentrate on creating an area of blue that is representational of an ocean or large area of water, even adding details such as waves.

Once your child has finished painting, allow the paper to dry, which really doesn’t take very long. While you’re waiting you can gather what you need for creating the second part of the Smithson creation. Take a minute to discuss the outdoors and how natural objects can be turned into art – even mud! This encourages kids to think of the earth as art, developing earth science and environmental concepts

The Spiral Jetty was created using mud and salt crystals, which might get kind of messy. So, instead, gather together some glitter (I used silver and red), salt, and sand (like the stuff in the sandbox). You’ll need about 1 tablespoon of each. Have your child measure and then add the sand painting ingredients in a small bowl, which also enhances and encourages math skills.

Invite your child to get out glue and a small container. She can squeeze out a good dollop of glue and then thin with a bit of water.

Now get out that blue paper back, place a couple of sheets of newspaper underneath, and encourage your child to dip her big brush in that glue water and paint a big spiral on her paper, just like Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty. Invite her to sprinkle the sand mixture all over the glue water, totally honing her fine-motor skills.

Leave the creation flat on the table for an hour or so and then your child can carefully lift up her paper (which can get a bit messy – hence the newspaper to catch all that leftover sand) and reveal her Robert Smithson artwork.

Pour the remaining sand into a container for the next time your child feels like creating another sand painting and find the perfect spot for showcasing your child’s finished artwork.


Constructivism and your child

Now that the tot is three, so many things have changed. She can talk her way through temper-tantrums explaining to us specifically why she is screaming and ranting, run that much faster away from us while we yell her name (desperately), and determine for herself if she’d like to nap or not (which is not so great for any down time for me). Sure, she’s also developing in amazing ways and exploring all the new things her brain and body can do, but it really seems so many of those things turn into a reason to have a toddler/parent show down.

And, during those moments, I try to take a few deep breaths and remind myself she’s a toddler and her behavior is typical. She’s also learning from the world around her, so setting a positive example is essential. It’s also pretty important to take a step back as the parent and give the child a chance to explore and learn from mistakes.

Through the concept of constructivism, a child is encouraged to learn through determining his own path of knowledge and individual process. Each child is different and special, just like their learning, and constructivism supports the idea that we construct our own understanding of the world we live in through generating rules and ideas based on individual experiences and trail and error. With the learning theory of constructivism, there are no flash cards or standardized tests. Instead, the child is supported to follow her instinct and create her own knowledge and strategies for understanding and learning.

Um, what the heck is constructivism? Don’t worry, it’s nothing to freak out about – and you might find learning about constructivism benefits you and your child. So, here are some facts…

The history of social constructivism leads us back to Lev Vygotsky and his social theories of learning. His studies found that a child often successfully accomplished new tasks while working in collaboration with an adult instead of on his own. This does not mean the adult is teaching the child how to solve problems, but through the act of the adult engaging with the child the learning experience improves and offers the child the ability to refine thinking and perform effectively. It is the idea of “can do” versus “cannot do,” and offering the child opportunities to change to the “can do” attitude with supportive, individual adult input.

By combining the idea of social and cognitive constructivism, the child is able to develop in positive ways. Social constructivism emphasizes the learning a child accomplishes through interaction with others and outside experiences. Cognitive constructivism is based on a child’s developmental stages and individual learning style. As stated before, each child is different and when her specific learning style is determined, her ability to learn is enhanced, especially when adults are able to fine-tune teaching to fit her specific learning.

Teaching with Constructivism

The educational system is not conducive to comfortably support constructivism in the mainstream classroom. But, there are small things educators, and parents, can do to support a child’s learning and development through constructivist theory. It is thought that most educators view learning as an objectivist theory, with the belief that learning exists outside of the bodies of learners residing in books and other educational documents. This leads to curriculum being based on teaching the child through textbooks instead of through experience. Through constructivism, the main way of learning is the senses, causing the brain to build a full understanding of the surrounding world. This leads us back to the understanding that each child is an individual creating separate unique responses and experiences.

With testing being the popular way to determine a child’s knowledge base, constructivism encourages the concept of experience and interaction. The process of learning through doing and engaging is the goal. Also, understanding each individual child’s prior-knowledge is key, used to build and grow adult interactions and teachings. This encourages greater bonds between adult and child and deeper educational experiences resulting in higher knowledge and self-esteem.

Ways to Integrate Constructivism

Introducing constructivist theory may seem like an unattainable goal for the classroom, but educators can make a difference through making simple changes and a bit of extra time. Parents can benefit from doing the same thing, creating a positive environment where the child is encouraged to explore and build his knowledge base through constructive ideals.

Take time to talk: It’s challenging in a bustling classroom to cover topics required by state standards of learning and maintain requirements of the school, but shortening lectures and book study and adding more interaction and discussion is one way to offer each student the opportunity to take part in learning. Including activities that encourage the student to apply their existing knowledge and real-world experiences promotes constructive learning. A healthy class debate is always a wonderful way to talk things out and hypothesis new ideas and problem solving.

At home, take time to talk through problems and encourage conversations at the dinner table, discussing new and exciting topics. And, don’t forget to ask lots of open-ended questions!

Doing is learning: Get out of the classroom and use those senses for learning! This goes for the home environment, too. As a population, we get caught up with the Internet and other social media as ways of entertainment and education. That big, heavy textbook has been replaced with surfing the interwebs. Turn to the great outdoors, along with real-life social interactions for learning and growth. Taking students into the real world to test their ideas and knowledge benefits constructive learning and understanding. Encourage a group discussion to finish the lesson after the out-of-classroom experience. And, parents can do the same by getting out of the house for a simple nature walk.

Ditch your expectations: Constructivism is not about test results and rote learning but about developing the child’s senses and understanding of the world around her. Find ways to encourage that learning through doing activities that are free of set limits and end results. Allowing a child to experiment with open-ended activities encourages creativity and self-esteem. If talking about weather systems, have students create a colorful weather collage. When discussing architecture, brainstorm as a group ways for building better covered bridges. Not only is the child developing her brain in amazing ways, she is pushing her senses to the limits learning more about his strengths and weaknesses and then making adjustments. Offering pre-tests allows for the teacher to gain understanding of student’s existing knowledge, aiding in creating educational lesson plans.

At home, direct open-ended questions without pressure on expectations. Use language focused on learning instead of results, such as grades, to instill confidence.

Introducing constructivist theory into the home or classroom is easier than one might think and offers fantastic benefits for both child and adult. So get out there and do some open-ended activities!

Chocolate cream cheese cookies

Valentine’s Day is right around the corner, and, instead of running out and spending a wad on stuff, I wanted to put together something tasty and easy to share with my loved ones. I don’t know about you, but Valentine’s Day screams of chocolate, so chocolate it must be. I wasn’t in the mood for putting together anything too challenging (I’m still pretty lazy since getting back from our vacation), so decided to keep it simple.

Chocolate cream cheese refrigerator cookies.

This is a tasty and easy recipe, which makes a big pile of cookies. You could even make a double batch and have enough to give to friends, family, teachers, and neighbors. Add white or semi-sweet chocolate chips for some extra love or toss in a sprinkling of pecans or walnuts. I didn’t have any of those yummies in the house, so simply chocolate cream cheese cookies it was.

Make sure to set aside some time when doing this recipe. The cookies need a bit of time to set up in the fridge, and you could totally go all fancy and use a cute cookie cutter to perfectly shape your sliced cookies.

Or you can just slice away like I did.

(still really good)


1/4 cup room temperature butter

1/2 cup sugar

1/4 cup brown sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

Dash of salt

1 egg

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 cup cocoa powder

1 1/4 cup flour

4 ounces room temperature cream cheese

What you do

Start by smoothing together the butter and sugars along with the dash of salt. Once it’s all soft and mixed nicely, go ahead and stir in the egg and vanilla.

Now slowly add the cocoa and flour while gently stirring. Go slow otherwise you’ll have a huge cocoa flour mess! Sprinkle in the baking soda and keep mixing until the cookie batter comes together.

Cube up the cream cheese and add to the mixture. Fold together just until the cream cheese starts blending in with the cookie dough. You still want there to be nice chunks of cream cheese spattered throughout the mix.

Tear off a nice length of plastic wrap and drop in your dough. Wrap it up while rolling and lengthening the cookie dough into a long roll, about 1-foot in length and three to four inches in circumference.

Place your cookie log onto a sheet pan and then into the fridge to chill for at least two-hours. If you can let it hang out over night, even better.

Preheat your oven to 350 F and get out your chocolate cream cheese cookie dough. Release from the plastic wrap and then carefully cut 1/4 -1/2 inch slices and place on a lightly greased sheet pan leaving an inch or so around cookies.

Pop into the hot oven for about 10-12 minutes or until the cookie tops are cracked and crisp.

Happy Valentine’s Day!


Turn off & tune in

This week has been awesome. The weather has been amazing, the tot has been well behaved (as well as the adults), and even with the itty-bit of bad weather, there’s been fun things to do. We’ve been here before, which really makes it feel like we’re hangin’ at our beach house. Along with some serious beach time, there has been some extra-long walks around town and along the boardwalk.

Not much time for chatting on Twitter or posting on Facebook.

I’ll admit. At first my fingers twitched every time something awesome happened, wanting to grab the hubs’ camera to update via Hipstamatic. And I totally had to hold back from tweeting through our tasty lunch in La Jolla. And then there was that totally awesome moment with the tot in the sand and the birds and the surfers and the food and the farmers market…..

I turned off.

I put the laptop away and left the husband’s phone to the husband.

And, then, it happened.

I tuned in.

I started noticing things. Like wearing a swimsuit really isn’t the worst thing ever. And I’m the kind of girl that actually does like wearing big floppy sun hats – and they look pretty okay on me. I’m also all good with eating fried fish and chips every day for lunch and not spending the rest of the day worrying about if my thighs look fat. And that hanging out in the sand with your child really is super fun even though that sand ends up in areas not so desirable (which is what showers are for, right?).

And I discovered that sometimes putting away all the gadgets and just tuning into what makes you really happy without sharing it every 10-seconds kicks some serious ass.

Here are some more pictures of surfers and stuff.


I’ll see ya on Monday.

A rainy day in La Jolla

We decided to head out on an adventure because the weather wasn’t going to be too wonderful, which meant it wasn’t going to be a vacation beach day. Just down the way is the town of La Jolla, and we’d heard good things. With a museum, an aquarium, cute shops and restaurants, plus cliffs and beaches, it seemed like the perfect destination for a rainy day in Southern California.

When you have a toddler, things always take a bit longer than you expect. After loading up the car, getting everyone and everything together, we got a later start than planned. So, once we actually found (yes, we got lost along the way) La Jolla, it was time for some lunch before attempting any sort of adventure. We stumbled upon The Spot amidst the wind and looming clouds and cozied up in a corner booth.

Um, yum.

This place was perfect for a family lunch, with reasonably priced options and a friendly atmosphere. I ordered the blue cheese covered lamb burger (medium rare, thank you very much) and it was amazing. After we had all noshed down our food, we made our way through town – quickly – before the rain started coming down. Then we jumped in the car and enjoyed from there.

All in all?

Great day.

And, we’ll be heading back for another fun-filled time in La Jolla to check out the aquarium – on a day when it’s not going to rain…