Easy Hash Brown Breakfast Bake

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This no-frills breakfast bake is definitely a guy-pleaser.

My husband recently hosted a morning Magic game with his friends and I wanted to make something easy yet tasty for the boys. You can’t go wrong feeding a group of guys hash browns, eggs and sausage in the morning, but I wanted to assemble it in a casserole to make it easier to serve (and eat between rounds).

If you don’t want to rush in the morning, you can assemble this casserole the night before so it’s all ready to pop in the oven by the time the crowds come calling. That’s what I did and it worked out perfectly!

INGREDIENTS

5 cups frozen, shredded hash browns
8 links pre-cooked sausage, sliced in small pieces
1 small onion, chopped
1 green pepper diced
8 eggs
2 cups milk
2 cups cheddar cheese
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
salt
pepper

PREP

1. In a large pan, saute onion and pepper in oil until they begin to soften. Remove from the pan.
2. In the same pan, lightly brown the frozen hash browns according to the packaging instructions. Add in the onions and green peppers and mix.
3. In a large bowl, mix the eggs, milk, salt, pepper,  nutmeg and 1 cup of cheese together.
4. Heat oven to 350. Spray a large casserole dish with cooking spray.
5. To assemble casserole, layer the bottom of the casserole dish with the hash brown mixture. Top with sliced, pre-cooked sausage pieces. Pour egg mixture over the top. (At this point, you can cover the casserole and refrigerate overnight until ready to bake)
6. When ready to bake, top the casserole with remaining cup of cheese.
7. Bake uncovered at 350 for about 45 minutes until casserole is puffed and golden brown

DIY Lavender Dryer Bags

DIY Lavender Dryer Bags

It’s harvest time for my early blooming lavender plants. I’ve been bundling and drying my beauties for a couple weeks, and now I have a healthy collection of dried lavender buds to craft with.

Last year, I showed you how to dry lavender and collect the buds for crafting or to set out as a fragrant decoration. This year, I wanted to put my lavender buds to use in the laundry room as an all-natural replacement for dryer sheets. My sheets and towels come out of the dryer smelling like they’ve been hanging in a lavender field all day. I LOVE it!

Here’s a step-by-step guide for creating your own lavender dryer bags:

Step One:  Dry Lavender Buds

As I mentioned, you can harvest your own buds if you have lavender growing in the garden. For a how-to CLICK HERE. If you don’t have a garden, you can buy pre-dried lavender buds through Amazon or a local lavender farm. Once you’ve separated the dried buds from the plants, you’re ready to create your dryer bags.

Step Two: Fill Bags

Since you don’t want the lavender buds to spill into the clothes dryer, it’s important to make sure they’re secured.

  1. I started by filling a small drawstring organza bag with lavender buds. I had luck finding organza bags at the craft store in the wedding favor aisle. (NOTE: Don’t fill the bag too full. Make sure you can pull the drawstring and knot it securely without any buds peeking out).

2. I double bagged my lavender buds by putting the organza bag into a larger cotton muslin drawstring bag. You can find them HERE through Amazon. Make sure to pull the drawstring tight and knot it securely.

Step Three: Ready for Laundry

It’s time to freshen up your laundry! Give your lavender buds a few squeezes through the bag to release the scent. For a little extra pop, sprinkle a few drops of lavender essential oil onto the bag, then pop it in the dryer with clothing or towels and let the lavender do its thang! Each bag should be good for 3-4 laundry cycles.

Day Trip to Bellingham, WA

Bellingham, Washington

If you have 8 hours, a tank of gas, and desperately need a break from the Seattle bustle, hop on I-5 north and chill out with the locals in Bellingham for the day – and by locals I mean the seagulls, the oysters and the vendors at the farmer’s market!

My husband and I took our first trip to Bellingham recently. Reading up on the sights and attractions, we were overwhelmed at the options awaiting us in this big, small town. We weren’t sure how many things we’d be able to do, but ultimately we fell into a lovely groove and ended up having the perfect day trip. We saw a good cross-section of Bellingham while leaving enough activities to warrant a return trip (in the very near future!)

Here’s my planner for a one-day trip from Seattle to Bellingham:

Boundary Bay Brewery

We left Seattle mid-morning and made it to Bellingham around lunch time. Our first stop was at the famous Boundary Bay Brewery for a local craft brew and sandwich (a Cubano for the huz and a Tofu Banh Mi for me.) Their tap room has benches for seating and a cool nautical theme.

Farmer’s Market

If you visit Bellingham on a Saturday be sure to take a stroll through the downtown Farmer’s Market. It’s just across the street from Boundary Bay. We picked up some locally-made cheese, tayberry jam and roasted almonds. There are plenty of street performers to stop and listen to while you take in the array of colorful fruits, vegetables and flowers. It’s also a perfect spot for dog watching. A ton of people had their pups out for a walk around town!

 Boulevard Park & Woods Coffee

Time for a caffeine pick-me-up and a walk along Bellingham Bay. Boulevard Park is a quick 6 minute drive from downtown.

 Woods Coffee  has a location right at the park with a log cabin interior and adorably-named coffee sizes like “spruce,” “cedar,” and “giant redwood” akin to Starbucks’ “tall,” “grande,” and “venti.” Grab a coffee or tea to go and enjoy a walk on the boardwalk across the water and up to  old-town Fairhaven.


Chuckanut Drive & Taylor Shellfish

Time to start the journey home, but I’ve saved the best stop for last. Wind your way back south on scenic Chuckanut Drive. There are spectacular views of the bay, the islands, and gorgeous homes around every bend. Shutterbugs, be sure to take your camera along, you’ll want to stop along the turnouts for photo ops. Near the end of the picturesque road is a must-do for seafood fans: a stop at Taylor Shellfish Farm and Market in Bow, WA. You literally can’t get oysters any fresher unless you physically walk into the water and pluck them out yourself.  A stop at Taylor is a quintessential PNW experience. They give you a bucket, as many oysters as you can eat, and a shucking tool. Take a seat in the picnic area and master the art of shucking an oyster surrounded by water and salty air. They even have lemons and tiny bottles of tobasco if that’s how you like to dress your raw oyster. If you have a sharp eye, and you’re as lucky as we were, you might even spy an eagle flying overhead. With full bellies and a happy heart, you’re ready for the trip home!

#PaleIsPretty

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Dark hair. Gray/blue eyes. Pale Skin. An odd combination, but that’s me.

There are many things I’d like to say while violently shaking my 16-year-old self, but at or near the top would have to be, “Hunny, embrace the pale. Pale is pretty! You’re not tan. You will never be tan. And you don’t need to compare yourself to the girls in your class who spend hours in the tanning bed. Take this one off your plate, kid.”

Remember the 90’s? Tanning beds were the rage. I used to get so mad at my parents for not allowing me to tan like the other girls in school. Turns out parents, with all their wisdom, really do know better than a teenager dealing with peer pressure. Looking back, I’m so grateful that I didn’t heap additional damage onto my fair skin by crisping up in tanning beds. I’m sure I did quite enough damage by spending my summers under that tanning bulb in the sky, sans sunblock.

 It took me a solid 30 years, many sunburns, several bouts of sun poisoning, and the graceful appearance of fine eye lines, but I finally had my ‘come to Jesus’ moment. I don’t belong in the sun! Now, I fully own my ‘don’t stare directly at my legs or they will blind you’ skin tone, and I fully intend to maintain it 365 days a year. SPF 50 is my best friend.

Maybe it’s the confidence (or indifference) that comes with getting older,  the changing culture, or the research about skin cancer, but I no longer feel the pressure to look tan in the summer. I’m ready to hit the beach, gleaming white, while sitting under a shade – and that’s super duper hard for me because I love the sun! I love being outside. I love being warm. But the risk of a burn trumps all those things.

I’m not sure if younger girls care as much about being tan anymore, but my hope is that we all embrace our unique selves – pale, tan, dark – all skin is pretty!

 

Strawberry Mint Cocktail

Strawberry Mint Cocktail

If you’re thinking of growing an herb this summer, make it mint! The drink options alone are worth the planter space. It’s amazing how a few sprigs of mint can totally transform a standard cocktail. It’s my latest obsession in my Summer of Mint series.

Vodka and 7s (or Sprites, or any other lemon-lime soda) are basic go-to’s for the home bar, but when you’re not feeling like a basic b’ – adding a hint of mint and strawberries will totally up your summer cocktail game, and it takes almost no extra effort!

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I took about 5 sprigs of mint, sliced a strawberry and muddled the two at the bottom of a cocktail glass. Then add a shot of vodka and top with ice and your favorite lemon/lime soda for a minty-citrus refresher.

INGREDIENTS
1 DRINK:
5 mint leaves
1 strawberry, sliced
1 shot vodka
Lemon Lime soda
Ice

PREP
1. Put mint and strawberries in and empty cocktail glass, muddle
2. Add vodka and ice, top with lemon lime soda.
3. Stir and enjoy!

Mint, Strawberry & Lime-Infused Water

Mint, Strawberry, Lime-Infused Water

If you’re growing mint this summer, you’ve probably discovered that it spreads like wildfire! Mine is taking off in a planter and it’s only been a few weeks. So what now? (We can’t make mojitos every damn day.) I’m so excited to find ways to incorporate mint into summer drinks, salads, marinades and desserts, so I’m officially calling this the Summer of Mint. Get ready for a lot of mint-spiration in the months ahead!

I’m starting off with the basics: hydration.

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Now that it’s getting warmer we need to be guzzling water. I’m amping up a plain glass of H2O with loads of flavor from fresh mint leaves, strawberry slices and lime wedges. Not only is it a pretty presentation, it’s just more fun to drink! I rarely consume 8 glasses of water a day – like my Women’s Health magazine has been harping on me about – but this flavorful infusion will have me reaching for water instead of soda all summer long.

Infused water is also a great place to start if you’re apprehensive about incorporating fresh herbs into your daily life. It doesn’t require much planning, thought or time: just throw all the ingredients in a pitcher, fill with water, stir, and refrigerate! It’s going to be a minty summer, friends!

INGREDIENTS

A handfull (about 10 mint leaves)
3 strawberries sliced
1 lime sliced
Water or Sparkling Mineral Water

PREP

1. In a pitcher, add mint, strawberry and lime slices.
2. Cover with cold water and ice. Infuse in the refrigerator for 1/2 hour – several hours depending on how strong you want the infusion to be.
(TIP: You can refill the pitcher a couple times to get more infusion out of the same ingredients)

Green Pea Pesto

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Hey pesto lovers, I know what you’re thinking: pesto is perfect like it is, don’t fix what isn’t broken. I hear you, and I agree, I just have an annoying problem of wanting to veggify everything. At risk of being booted out of my home, I stir stewed tomatoes and spinach into my macaroni and cheese, yep I’m that girl. That’s why I love this Green Pea Pesto. It has all of the flavor of regular pesto with an added boost of spring sweet peas.

I like to spread my pea pesto on poached salmon. It would also be pea-perfect as a topper for crostini. However you spread it, top it or dip it – you must try it! I used a frozen bag of sweet peas, just make sure they thaw before you construct your pesto. If you have fresh peas, even better! Just make sure to blanch the peas before you go to work on the pesto.

INGREDIENTS
1 10 oz bag of frozen sweet green peas (thawed)
1 cup fresh basil leaves
1/2 cup fresh mint leaves
3-4 cloves garlic
1/4 cup pine nuts (I used walnuts)
1/4 cup parmesan cheese (freshly grated)
1/2 lemon squeezed
1/4 cup Extra-Virgin Olive Oil

PREP
1. Add peas, basil, mint, garlic and walnuts to a food processor.
2. Pulse until ingredients start to combine. Scrape down the edges.
3. Add lemon and cheese to the food processor and cover. Continue to pulse while drizzling olive oil into the mixture. You may have to scrape down the sides again.

Salmon With Green Pea Pesto

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When I’m stressed or anxious about something, normally work, cooking helps calm my nerves, even if it’s just for an hour. It allows me to put aside worry and focus on following a methodical recipe. There’s little downtime for my mind to wander – and I get to look forward to a delicious payoff at the end!

This Salmon with Green Pea Pesto helped me survive one of my work-related freak-outs. I have a lot of important projects ahead, so I wanted to make something healthy to fuel my brain and my soul. I love pesto, and since it’s spring I switched up my regular recipe by adding sweet green peas as the base. If I had kids, I would seriously be one of the most hated moms on the block because I’m always looking for ways to sneak more vegetables into my meals. (My husband already gives me side eye when I make brownies. Him: Is there zucchini or spinach in this?)

I’m not hiding anything with this one, there are definitely peas, but also basil, garlic, parmesan and everything else that makes pesto… pesto!

INGREDIENTS
FOR THE PESTO
1 10 oz bag of frozen sweet green peas (thawed)
1 cup fresh basil leaves
1/2 cup fresh mint leaves
3-4 cloves garlic
1/4 cup pine nuts (I used walnuts)
1/4 cup parmesan cheese (freshly grated)
1/2 lemon squeezed
1/4 cup Extra-Virgin Olive Oil

FOR THE SALMON
1 pound of salmon
1/2 sweet onion, sliced round
1/2 lemon, sliced round
2 cups fish stock (or chicken)
1 cup dry wine (I used chardonnay)
2 sprigs of fresh rosemary
salt/pepper

PREP
FOR THE PESTO
1. Add peas, basil, mint, garlic and walnuts to a food processor.
2. Pulse until ingredients start to combine. Scrape down the edges.
3. Add lemon and cheese to the food processor and cover. Continue to pulse while drizzling olive oil into the mixture. You may have to scrape down the sides again.

FOR THE SALMON
1. Salt and pepper fish. In a deep pan, bring stock and wine to a slow boil.
2. Add onion, lemon and rosemary sprigs to the pan and reduce heat. Let simmer for 5-10 minutes to combine flavors.
3. Add salmon to the pan and cover. Allow fish to cook for 5 minutes until it’s just pink evenly across the top. (Do not overcook)
4. Remove fish from pan and plate. Top fish with pesto and serve.

Making a Garden Wreath

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So, it turns out I have a craft store hiding right in plain sight in my yard. My garden is providing me with most of the raw materials I need to make a fresh, seasonal wreath.

This spring, I attended a “Crafting in the Garden” seminar with Garden Therapy at the NW Flower and Garden show and it changed the way I’m thinking about my overgrown plants. I absolutely love my Rosemary. My two plants have grown and and expanded so quickly in just one year. I put fresh Rosemary in everything, and there is still an abundance of sprigs to work with. Using Garden Therapy’s guide for creating homemade garden wreaths, I put my own fresh door wreath together in about an hour! (Be sure to check out her site for a step-by-step guide!)

I started small using a small grapevine wreathform as a base (available at actual brick and mortar craft stores – not my garden, lol)

For my foliage, I cut a big bunch of Rosemary and holly sprigs with some of the colorful berries. (WARNING: if you have pets be careful when working with holly as the leaves and berries are poisonous to dogs. Keep the sprigs away from animals while crafting!) As summer approaches and more of my garden comes to life, I plan to incorporate fresh lavender, basil, sage and dill into the wreaths as well!

Working with small bunches of foliage, I wrapped the base of each bunch with twine and then wrapped the same piece of twine around the wreathform to secure it in place. Without snipping the twine, continue layering and wrapping bunches of foiliage around the wreathform until it’s full.

My wreath lasted about two weeks and then the foliage started looking rough. I just cut off the dead foliage, put it in the compost bin and saved the wreathform for my next garden wreath craft. I love that it’s a “green” crafting activity. The wreathform can be used time and again, and the all-natural greenery is compostable! Have fun everyone and get growing!

Girls Nights In: Smoked Salmon Cucumber Circles

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Light bites are perfect for girls night because the evening usually goes something like this: sip wine, fill a plate, sip more wine, refill plate, ok one more glass, just a few more bites. We’re going to be grazing all night, lets be honest, so I wanted to make a few lighter snacks like this one: Smoked Salmon Cucumber Circles.

We have a wonderful supply of smoked salmon here in the PNW, which is why I wanted to incorporate it into my girls night menu. As a cucumber topper, it’s such a cute, light, bite-sized snack. A bright and easy greek yogurt sauce acts as a glue to hold your bite together. It’s not too heavy either, so go ahead and grab another glass of Rose!

 INGREDIENTS
2 Large Cucumbers
8oz package of smoked salmon, cubed
6oz container of greek yogurt
Juice from 1/2 a small lemon
1 teaspoon fresh dill

PREP
1. Peel the cucumber (if you wish) and slice into thin rounds. Arrange on a platter.
2. Slice smoked salmon into cubes.
3. In a small bowl, mix together the greek yogurt, lemon, and dill.
4. Add a small dollop of the yogurt sauce to each cucumber and top with smoked salmon
5. You can sprinkle more fresh dill over the top if desired.