Scented fall leaf lovelies

There’s nothing like the smell of fall, with its rich earthy smell of fallen leaves, a waft of something good baking  from someone’s kitchen, and the scent of cooler air. We are smack-dab in the beginning of our Northern California fall, which usually means some of the nicest weather we’ve seen all summer. With temperatures wonderfully in the upper 80’s — or even hotter, it sure doesn’t seem like autumn at all.

To get in the spirit the tot and I rolled out some scented dough for making fall leaves that will fill even a hot house with the smells of fall. And by using fallen leaves from around the house to create the indentions, these fall leaf lovelies look wonderful hanging in a window or anywhere in your home.


1/2 cup cinnamon

1 teaspoon cloves

1/4 cup glue

3/4 cup applesauce


It’s as simple as mixing all the ingredients together. And even though you think they won’t form a dough, sure enough one forms. Cover and let rest in your fridge before rolling.

I rolled mine on one of the placemats I made the other day that have also turned into awesome project mats. If you don’t have a placemat, rolling on a length of parchment paper on your kitchen counter works wonderfully too. Go ahead and sprinkle the dough with flour if it seems too sticky. I covered my heavenly scented dough with a layer of plastic wrap and then rolled until about 1/4 inch thick. If you’ve got a tot that’s handy with a roller, she can help create a nice, level round.

Then we placed our leaves all over the place and rolled over the top. After removing the leaves, I used a big craft needle to trace around the edges and pop a hole at one end. Older kids can use a sharp pencil or the craft needle (with adult supervision) to do this step. Don’t worry about peeling the leaves from the placemat, just find a nice spot for them to dry out where they won’t be poked and squished by little fingers.

(OH – and these are NOT cookies. I had a bit of an issue explaining that to the tot, which was the only downfall of making these with a three-year-old.)

Let the leaves hang out overnight or place in the sun until they are dry. Now you can peel from the placemat and string with a length of colorful ribbon or string. Find the perfect spot for your scented fall leaf lovelies and enjoy the smell of autumn.


Chicken-n-dumplins (or something) soup

Yeah, my tot is sick. She’s had that hacky cough and a little drippy nose the last few days. I’ve doused her in orange juice, fresh fruit smoothies, and tons of yogurt to help her system work through her wee sickness. I even made a big pot of chicken soup, which she had no interest in at all, but I enjoyed eating while knowing I was deflecting all her little cold germs.

But instead of just making any ol’ boring chicken noodle soup, I made my own dumplings (and chicken stock — but that’s for another day) for a really rich and sick-busting soup/stew/thing. Okay, I’ve never actually made this style of “dumplings” before, but after this first try, I’m hooked.

What I learned is the thinner you roll the dough the better and the longer they simmer the softer they’ll be. In fact by the third re-heating they were seriously delicate and wonderfully tasty. I’ve adjusted the recipe for cooking time…


1 small onion

2 big carrots

3 stalks celery

3 big cloves of garlic

1 slice of lemon

1 teaspoon olive oil

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon Italian seasoning

8 cups chicken stock

1 pound chicken

2 cups flour

3/4 to 1  cup milk

2 tablespoons butter or shortening (or schmaltz)

1 teaspoon sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

Seasoning to taste


Start by chopping your carrots, celery, and onion about the same size and add to a large pot. Dice the garlic into small chunks and toss in too. Give everything a drizzle of olive oil and top with a sprinkle of salt and Italian seasoning. Let hang out over medium-low heat until the edges of the veggies just start to brown.

Now toss in the slice of lemon (you’ll love the flavor this adds!) and the chicken stock. Let things come to a simmer and then add your chicken. Let bubble until it has poached through.

Remove the chicken and let the stock and veggies continue to bubble while you make the dumplings.

Mix together the flour, milk, baking powder, sugar and salt, and then cut in your fat. I used homemade chicken stock for making my soup, so had quite a bit of schmaltz skimmed from the pot to use. But butter or shortening work wonderfully too.

Once the dough comes together, give a quick knead on a dusted counter top and then roll as thin as possible. Use a pizza cutter to cut squares from your dough and then gently slide into your bubbling cauldron of happiness.

While things are bubbling, shred the now-cooled chicken and add to the soup. Here’s where I wasn’t patient enough — after about 20-minutes I ladled myself up a bowl and ate it quite happily with an extra dash of salt and pepper. The dumplings still had a bit of a bite to them, but they still tasted wonderful.

BUT, the next day, after letting the soup come to a nice and hot boil, the soup tasted even better. So my suggestion would be to cover your soup and let it gently simmer for at least 30-minutes after adding your dumplings — you could probably let them go even longer. Then give a taste test, adjust seasonings as needed, and ladle yourself up a bowl.

*If your stock is too thin for your liking, thicken with 1/2 cup milk and 1 tablespoon flour mixed nice and smooth. Slowly drizzle into the soup while stirring and watch as it instantly thickens.

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Bribery (and a Dream Lite)

Dream Light

First and foremost, I was not paid in any way, coerced, asked, suggested, or even chatted with about this post from anyone at Dream Lite. Nope. In fact, the last thing I would have ever imagined picking up for my tot this weekend WAS a Dream Lite. And it all started with a bit of bribery.


That’s right.

I bribed my tot.

There’s been a lot going on lately, between starting a new preschool, having a new schedule, me not having as much time for her lately, and my husband’s commute pretty much being THE WORST lately, I was starting to seriously twitch every night at bedtime when she tossed her regular nightly fit.

We try to stay away from watching the big TV. We catch Sesame Street in the morning, maybe a bit of Sprout in the afternoon, but not much else. So when my tot started asking for this so called “dream light” thing, I had no clue. I made up songs, hit her up with some imaginary play (still trying to figure it out) and then one afternoon I finally caught the commercial (after I had left Poppy Cat on too long…). Dreeeaaaam liiiiight, DREAAAAAAM light. You know it if you’ve seen it.

And then it got it.

This was a great opportunity to bribe my tot with a toy (which is something I really haven’t done before) and go with it. I was done with the hours of listening to the whining, the trying talking to my tot in the same tone of voice she was using, the yelling, the serious grey hairs that were popping.

So I did it.

I told her if she behaved herself at school like a big girl, was nice and quiet at bedtime, I’d pick her up a Dream Lite. Well, low and behold, the tot held up her part of the bargain, so the husband and I found ourselves searching around our non-box-store-allowed town for a crap-tastic Dream Lite. After picking the coveted thing up, we headed home, loaded the thing up with batteries, and then listed to the tot complain about how it didn’t work AT ALL.

Finally it got dark out and then the magic happened.

It worked.

She was amazed, in love, in awe. Honestly, we were too.

There’s no way you can share pictures (because taking pictures in the dark just doesn’t work) but all I know is that my tot LOVES going to sleep, falls asleep, and the husband and I sneak downstairs to check out the glowing stars too.

Thank you Dream Lites.

Thank you.

Fun play dough stamps

The other day my husband came home with one of those mega play dough sets for the tot. I love making my own play dough (I think store-bought has a funny smell…) but before I could even get out a word, our daughter let out such a scream of delight I kept my comments to myself. Along with a big assortment of colors, the set came with tons of shape cutters, tools, rollers and squashers.

She loved it for about a day.

This afternoon she was playing around but I could tell she needed a bit of motivation to keep that play dough cool in her little world. So I asked her if she wanted to paint and play with play dough.


The tot’s favorite color of the moment is red, so we rolled out a golf-ball sized amount of hot-red play dough and squeezed a bit of red paint (and yellow and orange) on a folded sheet of paper towel. After we spent a few moments pressing and indenting the ball of play dough with a few items, I encouraged her to gently press the molded play dough into the paint and then print on a white paper. She continued pressing and printing until her paper was covered with interesting shapes and designs.

While she was exploring, I couldn’t help seeing what would happen with a bit more patience. I pressed a bit of play dough over a sprig of rosemary and had a great time creating a little pattern. Then I tried a flower puffy sticker, which also created a fun graphic stamp.

Tons of possibilities!

This is a fun and simple project for wee tots as well as older kids that understand the printmaking process. You can press the play dough on just about anything to create really awesome and fun stamps. And this is a great way to use old bits and pieces of play dough, or that glob of dough that’s been created from mixing all the colors…

Have fun!


The fence

I am not a fence builder. My dad and husband built the fence around our lot, but this situation was totally different. If you’re wondering why the need for a fence, here’s the back story. We weren’t so interested in making things super secure (basically we didn’t want to dig holes and pour cement) because we were paralleling the chain link fence. The plants that were still left from the butchering on our side of the fence were very happy, which meant we needed to build around or weave the fence through.

We had no idea what to do.

After digging holes and securing a few 6-foot redwood stakes, we started weaving thin redwood slates to create a horizontal organic fence. We are calling it a big trellis…

By the end of the first day we were feeling pretty good about how things were going. You can still see the (now bare) chain link fence and a bit of the football field, but at least now we can train the vines to grow on OUR FENCE.

Today we added the final few lengths, repositioned a few plants, and mourned the loss of quite a bit of one of our really mature grape vines. I think I’ll mourn it a bit more later with a glass of wine…

A plant tragedy

This week got away from me. There was also a bit of plant tragedy, which left me a bawling fool yesterday. You see we’ve got a yard that sides with the high school football field. This is actually a good thing because it means we don’t have neighbors lurking behind us, things are pretty quiet for the most part, we have AMAZING views, and if kids decide to hang out late-night on the field and do things that teenagers do, we can always call the cops and complain (and they show up with this crazy-bright strobe light and do this hunt-and-chase thing with the kids that is kind of cool instead of just yelling at them or something).

For the last three years I have nurtured several plants along the fence line, weaving them into the fence, building a natural layer of privacy instead of putting up a big fence that would block the light and completely close us off from the field. Here and there are small holes for use to catch a glimpse of the soccer game on Sundays or the fall football games.

Here’s the picture I posted just the other day after we racked leaves.

See that nice, lush wall to the left of my tot? All the plants on my side of the fence are still there. Any parts of them that grew through or winded their way within that fence are gone.

It’s just chain link again.

I was in tears for most of the day yesterday.

Yes. I know that’s a bit pathetic, but I cried over the time I spent with those pants. I cried about how they were chopped and butchered with a seriously loud gasoline chainsaw. I even went and asked the school gardener yesterday though tears if he really needed to cut them, to which he responded that it was his job and that he is a gardener and knows what he is doing.

I couldn’t stop crying.

Today is a new day and I do realize I was a bit distraught over plants that will grow back in time, but still ache over what had been my happy plants. I’d post a picture but I haven’t been able to visit the yard without getting a bit teary-eyed.

Tomorrow we have plans for building a fence, which might end with the husband and I having a drop-down-drag-out fight or us happily sipping cocktails in our newly fenced yard by Sunday.

(And the fence building I will document. OH yes I will.)


How to roast a duck

The other day there were whole ducks at Costco. It’s not every day that you pick up a whole duck to cook up for dinner, but the price was not to be passed up — $14 for a 4 pound birdie seemed like a total steal. Humanely butchered and also kosher, we picked up three and quickly walked to the check out.


Because we don’t have a deep freeze, orchestrating the proper positioning of those ducks in the freezer took much more time than I ever imagined. But it was totally worth it. Roasting a duck isn’t a quick thing. For a little birdie, slow and low is the way to go.

Start by removing the innards from the duck. You can do wonderfully delicious things with the liver, but that’s a post for another day. Give your duck a quick wash in cool water and remove any feathers if neccesarry.

Prepare your roasting pan by lining with two layers of tin foil. Yeah, you want to save that duck fat — really, you do. Now place a turkey rack in that pan and give it a good coating of oil. Tuck the wings under the duck, place it on the greased rack, and give it a quick sprinkle of salt.

I decided to stuff my duck with a quartered orange and a couple of smashed cloves of garlic. Truss the legs to keep that birdie pristine. Use a very sharp knife to poke the duck all over the place. We’re not talking stabbing, just a nice decent jabbing. This helps release the fat from the skin so you’ll have a nice, crisp skin when that duck is finished roasting.

Preheat the oven to 350F and then score the breast with a sharp knife. You don’t want to butcher the thing, just criss-cross the skin delicately and then give it a good seasoning with salt and pepper. You’ll notice I tossed the neck bone in the bottom of the pan for extra lovely duck flavor…

Pop that duck in the oven and set the time for one hour.


Take the duck out and baste with its own drippings. Carefully turn, poke, baste again, and then roast for another hour.


Take the duck out and baste. Carefully turn, poke, baste again, and then roast for another hour.


Take the duck out and let sit for a moment. Now is the time to decide on your flavor profile. If you are wanting a Peking duck kind of flavor, baste on some duck sauce or soy sauce and have a great time. But what tastes even better is mixing together you own tasty coating. I squeezed an orange, mixed with 1 tablespoon honey, 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar, 1 tablespoon ketchup, a touch of soy and Worcestershire sauce, and a dash of salt and pepper.

Give your duck a big basting and then toss in the oven for another 2o-mintues or so. You can take your birdie out and check its temp and give another basting. Your bird might need up to an additional hour of cooking at this point, so just check back often. It’s suggested that the leg joint temp should read 175F, but if you’re around 165F  or 170F, pull that duck and let it rest for a few minutes.

Give your duck at least 10-minutes to set before you start carving. While you’re waiting you could make a lovely sauce from the fat, steam some broccoli for a side, enjoy a glass of wine….

Carve your bird and serve with whatever you love.


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Fine art for kids: Pointillism fall tree

The season is changing and I’m not sure how happy I am about it. It’s been a lovely summer and the idea of getting out the warm sweaters doesn’t fill be any excitement. Where I live we sometimes have the best weather during September, October, and even November, so am still holding onto the hope that the temps will stay in the 70’s for a little longer. Or at least upper 60’s…

But there’s nothing stopping the leaves from their natural progression. It gets cold here at night, which causes those leaves to do what they do this time of year. There are pops of orange and yellow among the palm trees and redwoods, reminding us all in Northern California that it can’t be gorgeous all year round. It also reminded me of a few seasonal Impressionist paintings and was inspired to do a fun art activity with the tot that would also help hone her budding fine motor skills and interest in keeping things within the lines.

All those dots of fall color reminded me of Georges Seurat and his unique way of painting. You see, he created these grand paintings with just small dots of color. Up close you can see each and every carefully positioned dab of color but from a distance they blend together into a complete artwork. One of his most recognized artworks is Study for A Sunday on La Grande Jatte, 1884If you are of my generation, you may remember it from the museum scene in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off…

Such a great scene, right?!

But, back to the fall project. Get out a sheet of white paper and invite you child to draw a tree with a brown marker — just the trunk. If you’ve got a tot like I do, go ahead and help out by drawing the tree. It doesn’t have to be perfect, just go with it.

Squeeze out a small drops of red, yellow, and orange paint onto a sheet of scrap paper. Place a few cotton swabs next to the paints and encourage your tot to dip the top of a cotton swab into one color of paint and then dot around the tree to create dabs of color just like Georges Seurat.

Now your child can keep making more dots with another cotton swab dipped in the other autumn colors creating a fall tree full of small dotted leaves. Older kids can create tightly organized collections of dots around each branch of the tree while younger tots can enjoy the fun of popping colors all over the paper.

After your child is satisfied with her fall pointillism tree, find a place to display it for the rest of the family to enjoy. Don’t forget to check out how the artwork looks close up compared to from a distance!

Picnic under the Golden Gate Bridge

Today was awesome. We hit our local farmers market, splurged on goodies, and decided to head out for a picnic. Our plans were to meander around Muir Woods and then enjoy a picnic at Muir Beach, or on the lawn at the Pelican Inn, but we totally spaced on the fact that it is LABOR DAY WEEKEND, which means everyone in the area has plans to do the same thing. So, after a long drive (that should have only taken minutes), we decided to turn tail and head to another spot and see what might happen.

Tucked under the Golden Gate Bridge next to the Discovery Museum (which is also awesome!) is a marina and pier surrounding Fort Baker. We snagged one of the very few picnic tables and enjoyed eating all our goodies while waiting for the bridge to pop through the rolling fog. After a leisurely lunch we strolled the pier to see if anyone had snagged some crabs or tasty fish.

There’s no fee to check this area out and, if you’re brave, you can stroll along the bike path all the way up to the bridge and then walk the span. This is a popular area for tourists that rent bikes, so be ready to battle for walking space. But the views are spectacular, and if you’re coming from north of San Francisco, it’s basically free.

*I’d love to take credit for these pictures but I actually only took the first one, but my husband took the rest.


Oakland Zoo

Today we spent the entire day at the Oakland Zoo. We’d never been there so weren’t sure how things would go but were pleasantly surprised by happy animals, friendly people, and lots and lots of open space to wander. We even enjoyed a decent meal, got to meet a snake, and loved the petting area. We went to the San Francisco Zoo last year and were not that impressed. The penguins seemed sad (and their area was dirty), the lions wouldn’t even look at anyone, and it seemed small and frustrated. Yeah, yeah. I know, the whole “zoo” thing. But I was happy to learn that many of the animals at the Oakland Zoo had been rescued from circuses or homes/ranges that thought they could raise a chimp…

If you’re in the Bay Area, the price of admission is totally budget friendly ($9.75 for kids over 2, 15 and up for $13.75 – with a $7 parking fee), and you can bring your own lunch or pick something up for around $6 per person, making the Oakland Zoo is a great way to spend a leisurely day. There are tons of benches for sitting and relaxing, a play area for the kids, lots of tables for eating, and a fantastic children’s educational area.