Echelon Vineyards: All kinds of wonderful

This week was full of ups and downs. The tot and I had a few disagreements (but what’s new, right?), a couple of things changed with my work stuff, and the cats continued being cats and waking me up the minute they saw the sun. But, there was one wonderfully, shining moment early in the week – the moment an actually somewhat-hunky guy showed up on my doorstep bearing wine – and he wasn’t my husband.

Thanks to Echelon Vineyards and the Clever Girls Collective, I had the opportunity to sample a few bottles of Echelon wine. Let me tell you up front, I wasn’t paid to write this review – just offered a few bottles to taste test and then share my honest opinion. I mean, really, twist my arm and all that stuff.

(I couldn’t wait to start sampling!)

Honestly? I pretty much like all wine. But, I do have a bit of a wine-snob husband. He worked his way through college while waiting tables at the San Ysidro Ranch and part of his job was checking out wine – and we’re talking the good stuff. He’s a bit of a snoot and is brutally honest while tasting, so I enlisted him to assist. I decided what better way to really get a full understanding of the flavors than by cooking up a special dinner for each bottle.

Let me tell you.

All kinds of wonderful.

We started out with the 2010 Echelon Vineyards Chardonnay that I paired with grilled garlic and oregano marinated boneless skinless chicken thighs over rice and fresh spinach topped with homemade tzatziki sauce. We had a sip of the Chardonnay before eating and both commented on how light and smooth it was. Neither of us had read the label, but the husband noted instantly the hints of honey, pear, and apple. It went wonderfully with our dinner, and, I’ll be honest, there wasn’t any wine left once we were finished. Echelon’s Chardonnay is a complex but light wine that I would bring to any barbecue.


The next night we cracked open a bottle of the 2010 Echelon Vineyards Red Blend. We both had a bit of hesitation – the idea of a red blend had me concerned (headache in the morning), but we figured we’d have a glass and then (potentially) use the rest for cooking. While putting the finishing touches on our oven-baked vegetarian eggplant parmesan, we sampled a small glass and both couldn’t keep sipping. Once again, neither of us had read the label, but commented on the light, fruity flavor of the blend and called out the oaky-ness as well as the smoothness, which didn’t leave a dry feeling in the mouth. Once again, there wasn’t any wine left at the end of dinner….


A few nights later I made barbecue chicken breasts along with a hot lentil salad with roasted red pepper, radishes, and beets. We couldn’t wait to try the 2010 Echelon Vineyards Pinot Grigio because the other bottles had been so good. Let’s just say we’d both had a nice, big glass before we even sat down to dinner. It was so cold and fresh and the husband noted the light but super-crisp flavor with the slight fruit undertones.  I simply tasted all kinds of goodness. We both decided this was our favorite bottle of the three – by far. It also went wonderfully with our dinner. This is a perfect summer wine and lovely with anything from grilled meats to big salads


Echelon Vineyards has won its fair share of awards and I can see why. Their wines are easy to drink and not overly anything in any way. And, they are wonderfully priced ($10-$15 per bottle), making them taste even better.

Head on over to Echelon Vineyards for more information about their wines and where you can pick up a bottle. Do it – seriously, do it now. You’re entitled to a nice glass of wine!


*Once again, I wasn’t paid to write this post – just provided with some really amazingly good wine to sample. I also wasn’t asked to write a blog post about the wines, but I did because they were that good.

Carrot-yogurt faux mac-n-cheese

healthy homemade mac-n-cheese

I have a toddler that loves pasta. She could eat the stuff all day everyday and be happy. I’ve played around with different kinds of pasta with great success (homemade spaghetti-ohs, white bean mac-n-cheese) but she was ready for something different. After the fifth round in a row of homemade spaghetti-ohs, she was moping around and even asking for peeup-and-belly-witches.

So the other day, while she was chomping down her sandwich, I experimented with a new pasta dish for dinner. I had fresh carrot juice in the fridge along with a bit of Greek-style yogurt. Yes, they don’t sound like a good pairing, but along with the help of some cheddar cheese, anything is possible.

And, I was right.

This is a really easy recipe, you just need the ingredients. Most markets carry carrot juice, but make sure you don’t pick up a blend with orange or cucumber. If you’ve got your own juicer, you’re totally good to go.


8 ounces dry fusilli pasta cooked (which makes about 4-cups)

1/2 cup carrot juice

1/2 cup Greek-style plain yogurt

1/2 teaspoon seasoned salt (you know, that Lawry’s stuff)

1/2 teaspoon vegetable oil

1/4 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese


Bring a big pot of water to a boil, toss in a bit of salt, and then your pasta. Any shape works, but the fusilli really is perfect. While things are bubbling away, mix together the carrot juice, yogurt, oil, seasoned salt, and salt in a bowl. Give things a whisk to make sure it’s all creamy. Go ahead and shred your cheddar, too.

Once your pasta is cooked and happy, give it a strain. While it’s hanging out, toss the carrot-yogurt mixture into your hot pot and turn the heat down to medium-low. Give things a stir while the sauce starts heating up.

As soon as the sauce starts bubbling, add the pasta back to the pot. Stir to coat the pasta and then add the shredded cheese. Keep stirring and simmering until the cheese is all melty.

Now is the time for taste testing – this is a kid-friendly recipe, so it’s low in salt and also not too strong in flavor. If you know your kid loves garlic, add some in with the mix. Got a child that loves the spice? Kick things up with a few shots of hot sauce. Mine can’t get enough of that tangy yogurt flavor, so I added an extra dollop at the end, along with a dash of pepper (and another sprinkling of salt).

The finished faux mac-n-cheese has an almost neon-orange color and is good hot or cold. My tot scarfed down 2-bowls for dinner, and happily ate a big serving cold the next day at preschool.

*The first time I made this recipe, I included shredded, slow-roasted turkey breast, which was out of this world. For an adult version, finish the pasta with a couple of good handfuls of spinach, top with extra shredded cheddar and pop under the broiler for a fabulous side dish.

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What to do when your toddler colors on everything and anything

Remember last week when I shared that post about right-brained dominant (a.k.a super creative) kids? While writing it, my toddler was enjoying her not-really nap-time. She doesn’t really sleep anymore, she just has quiet time in her room. I’ve got it stocked with her favorite books, stuffed animals, a chalk board with chalk, and most recently, crayons and a few coloring books. She’s really into creating tons and tons of creations to mail to Gamma and Opa, so I figured I could trust her to keep those crayons on the paper.

Because, you remember when she colored on the wall, right?

(which resulted in the homemade chalk board…)

The thing is, your toddler is hard-wired to make marks. Her right-brain is in overload, desperately searching for ways to share thoughts, feelings, and ideas. This stage of creation is referred to as the scribble stage, due to the child’s desire to scribble, scribble, scribble. Nothing looks like much, but your toddler can actively tell you about the animals, monsters, people, and other crazy stuff in artworks. Before you discard those pages and pages of scribbles, understand it is the expression of your child’s brain developing in amazing ways. From starting to understand hand-eye coordination to simple mathematical concepts, your toddler’s scribbles are the stepping stone to speech, reading, and writing development.

Meaning, it’s a good idea to encourage your child’s disorganized scribbling as much as possible.

But what to do when your child colors on everything and anything possible?

Remember the afore-mentioned day – that day I was writing and the tot was “napping?” When I went down to see if she had actually fallen asleep, because things had gotten pretty quiet, I made quite the discovery. She had colored everywhere. From her dresser to her closet doors to her side table to her light switch, just about everything in her room had a colorful mark.

Before I took a moment to think I scolded her. Instantly I realized it was the absolute wrong decision. She had spent just over an hour artfully decorating her room in a way she was excited about and excited to share with me. She had spent time expressing herself though scribbles and colors (really, each area was a different color combination), and she was looking forward to dazzling me with its beauty. And, I had left those crayons in her room. After we both calmed down, the two of us spent some quality time together cleaning up those scribbles and discussing where those crayons belong – on paper!

Do you have a super scribbler? Here are a few simple ways to encourage those marks to stay where you want them:

Don’t leave any mark making implements within reach of your child (unless you are right there!): Yes, this is a bit of a no-brainer, but, as your toddler ages, you begin to feel they have an understanding of keeping crayons on the paper. Remember your toddler is still a toddler (until the age of four) and still has those inner-toddler instincts to see what might happen. Leaving crayons out for your child is an open invitation to color away on whatever is available. Make time to color alongside your toddler showing your amazing skills to keep those crayon scribbles on your own paper. Toddlers love copying behavior.

Designate a coloring area: Make a spot in your home just for your toddler to create. Whether it’s the kitchen table, a small end table no one uses or an easel in the corner, make sure your toddler knows this is “the spot” to go for making marks. Keep the area stocked with paper, stickers, and chalk (which washes off everything) but keep the markers and crayons out of reach. When your child finds herself over at her creative spot, offer crayons, markers, or paints – but keep an eye on things. As your child matures, she’ll understand the area is for being creative, and markers shouldn’t travel around the house.

Don’t be afraid: Sure, you might not be into fingerprinting, but your child is. Art is one of the main ways a child defines who they are. Getting creative with your child shows that you find her scribbles important, encouraging her self-esteem. You’re going to get messy. Your child is going to get messy. Stuff in your house might get messy. But, if you have a plan of attack, and stay calm, things will turn out wonderfully. Use plastic placements under paper to cut back on mess. Or, place a sheet pan under artwork while painting. Keep a wet washcloth (or a container of baby wipes) next to your creative area to tackle messes the minute they happen.

Don’t yell (but don’t praise either): At some point your child is probably going to color on something. Hopefully, it will be with a mark-making implement that is washable. Before reacting, take a deep breath. If you are expecting it to happen during the toddler years it won’t be such a big surprise when you come across a colored white wall, right? Start by acknowledging what you see and then calmly explaining that crayons only belong on paper. Walk your child over to your creative area and get out a paper for your child to scribble on. Once she’s had a moment to make a few marks, remove the crayons. Walk back to your newly colored wall and discuss how the walls aren’t for coloring, but for hanging pictures and that you can frame one of her artworks to look at….

Frame your child’s scribbles and hang them on the wall: Even though you might not think her scribbles are anything exciting, she sure does. If your child spends a good amount of time on a creation, pick up a simple frame (less than $10 at the craft store!), pop in her artwork, and display in your home. Make sure to point it out to your toddler or hang it at just above arms reach so she can stand in front of her framed artwork and appreciate it. Not only are you showing you are proud of her and her abilities, you are encouraging her to continue exploring her creativity.

So get out the crayons and start scribbling – on paper!