Mango Avocado Salsa

On a spiciness scale of plain yogurt to ghost peppers, my preference lands somewhere just above plain yogurt.  As a kid I thought ketchup was too spicy, so while every other kid was busy dumping it on everything in sight, I stuck to my Nonna’s homemade bleu cheese dip.  I was a weird foodie kid from the get go.

My husband, who is 10 years my senior, keeps waiting for more of my tastebuds to die so that we can finally add an additional star to our Thai food order.  “Just wait until you get older,” he says.  So far, no such luck.  Sorry, Tim. 

But Salsa…I love salsa.  Maybe not spicy salsa and yes, I have been told by many that mild salsa isn’t real salsa.  But to them I say, who made you the salsa boss?!

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So this Mango Avocado Salsa, may not be real salsa, but all I know is that it is REALLY tasty.  I made a mild version with bell peppers but you can chop up a red jalapeño or two if you want more heat.

Just to keep us all on our toes, this salsa is also made out of two of the hardest things to cut into cubes without making a mess: Avocados and Mangos.  I will be honest.  I am still working on gracefully cutting a mango.  The method I use is to quarter it around the pit.  Then skin each quarter and dice from there.  If you have a better method, please share!!!

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Avocados I have a little more confidence with.  After halving the avocado, I keep the avocado flesh in the skin and score all the way down to the skin in a grid pattern. Then take a spoon and separate the skin from the avocado flesh.  Yay, avocado cubes!

Onions are basically the best designed produce for easy dicing, but a lot of raw onion in salsa can sometimes be overpowering  –  especially when the onion is extra fresh!  So I borrowed – errr, stole – this little trick from some late-night, binge Food Network watching.  Dice up the onions first and then add the lime juice to them.  The acid in the lime “cooks” the onion and makes their flavor much less overwhelming.  I use this little trick in everything I can!  Including this salsa!

This stuff is awesome on chips, tacos, salads, BBQ teriyaki chicken, or even on its own.  I made it once this week already and am already craving more of its sweet mango and creamy avocado deliciousness.

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 Without further ado…these summer flavors are calling your name.

Mango Avocado Salsa

  • 2 mangoes, cubed
  • 2 avocados cubed
  • 1/2 red bell pepper, finely chopped (or for those who like it hot, 1-2 red jalapeños, finely chopped)
  • 1/2 large red onion
  • juice from one baby lime
  • 1/3 cup cilantro
  • 1/4 tsp. chile powder
  • dash of salt

Finely chop onions and add to the bowl you will mix your salsa in.  Immediately add the juice from one small lime to the onions and give the onions a quick toss to coat.  Dice the mangos, peppers, and avocados.  Tear or coarsely chop the cilantro. Add the mangos, peppers, avocado, and cilantro.  Gently toss the salsa until ingredients evenly dispersed.  Add the chile powder and a dash of salt. Gently toss again.  Cover and chill until serving.

This is enough to serve a crowd.  So, now all we need is some Salsa music and maybe a BBQ invite;)

Zucchini-Packed Cake with Lighter Cream Cheese Frosting

The case of what to do with the giant zucchini was as miraculous as it was mysterious.  Miraculous because I am vegetable garden challenged.  Every year I have great intentions and high hopes for my starts and seeds, but between forgetting to water, limited light, and the acidity of our soil (due to the evergreen trees overhead) my garden never amounts to much of anything.  To make my neglectful watering worse, this year Seattle has had a summer’s full of sunshine and heat, and we haven’t even hit August!

So, I felt like a gardening superstar when my lettuce did OK and I was able to pinch off a leaf or two of kale for an itty bitty salad.  Oh, did I mention that I had a pathetic, scraggly looking zucchini plant sprout long after I had lost hope for it?  Go me!

I wrote off my zucchini plant’s chances of success as “not good” and neglected to water it all summer – oops.  This weekend I decided I’d stared at its ugliness for long enough and proceeded to tear it out.

Turns out my scraggly zucchini plant with splotchy, slug eaten, sunburned leaves was hiding a single lone treasure despite its scantily clad appearance.  Which brings us back to the giant zucchini.  Measuring just over 1 foot long and weighing it at over 3 lbs, this Miracle Monster looked almost like a baby watermelon rather than a zucchini.

Which brings me to my next mystery: What exactly does one do with a giant zucchini, aside from nicknaming it “Miracle Monster?!”

So I decided that rather than search the internet for a recipe requiring 3+ lbs of zucchini, I will stick to the things I know and make this last week of July a week of zucchini-ness.

How better to start than with zucchini cake!  Now, when I mean zucchini cake, I don’t mean that chocolate cake with a tiny smattering of zucchini folded in.  I mean a cake packed with zucchini.  I probably used about 1 lb. of the Miracle Monster in this cake!

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As you would expect with the addition of zucchini, the cake is moist, light, and flavorful!  I grated some apple (or you could use apple sauce) as well for naturally added sweetness and even more moisture.

I almost forgot the best part!  This cake is an easy 1-bowl wonder – well aside from a vegetable grater and cutting board!  😉  In my house, fewer dishes = awesome.

Healthy and cake are not typically words I use in the same sentence, however this cake has no refined sweeteners. If you have dairy allergies, the cake is dairy free and the frosting can be too with some easy vegan substitutes!  Aside from the giant zucchini, I bet you have all or most of these ingredients already!

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I love cream cheese frosting and have been hearing some serious love for cream cheese frostings with greek yogurt!  I should probably mention that along with most healthy baked goods, I am a skeptic of healthy frosting.  But fear not, this greek yogurt cream cheese hits the mark!  It is lighter and has a little extra tang, and “the tang” is why I love cream cheese frostings to begin with!  So of course I had to give one or two recipes a try, and man-oh-man. was I not disappointed!  I have put an easy spin on it, because easy is awesome.  I even had a little left-over which just so happens to double as the perfect strawberry dunking dip;)

Greek yogurt frostings although not being durable enough for  a layer cake, are PERFECT for cakes like this!  If you love cream cheese frosting, you will LOVE this frosting.

Without further ado….

Zucchini-Packed Cake

  • 1 1/4 cup zucchini, grated
  • 1/3 cup apple, grated (or applesauce)
  • 1/3 cup oil (a tasteless light variety, although I steer clear of veg. oil)
  • 1 1/2 tsp. apple cider vinegar
  • 1 1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
  • 1 egg
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour or all-purpose whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 3/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/3 cup turbinado sugar

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.  With a wire whisk mix flour, baking soda, salt, and sugar together. Add zucchini, apple, oil, vinegar, vanilla and gently stir together until almost combined.  Then add 1 egg and mix just until combined.  Be careful not to over-mix.

Cut a piece of parchment to line the bottom of a greased 8in. square pan or a 8in. cake round.  Pour batter into the pan and bake for around 20 minutes (I started checking at 15min) until cake sets and knife comes out clean from the center.  After cake has been removed form the oven, wait 5 minutes and then remove cake from pan.  Allow cake to cool completely before eating:)  Although this cake is yummy on its own, you will find the frosting recipe below – and trust me, you want to make this frosting!!

Greek Yogurt Cream Cheese Frosting

  • 6 oz. cream cheese (room temperature)
  • 1/4 cup + 2 tbl. greek yogurt (I used non-fat)
  • 5 tbl. powdered sugar
  • 3/4 tsp. pure vanilla extract

With an electric mixer and the wire whisk attachment,  combine cream cheese and greek yogurt until combined.  Then add powdered sugar until combined and finally mix in the vanilla extract.

Top the cake with the yummy frosting and store in the fridge until serving.

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So part 1 of my Miracle Monster veggie has been devoured in the form of a cake (veggies in cake, hehe).  But, what am I to do with the rest of him?  I am pretty sure these Zucchini “Meatballs” from Skinnytaste deserve a taste, or this truly amazing Rainbow Vegetarian Pad Thai from PinchOfYum is calling my name yet again.  Yum!

Although my gardening skills may be lacking, I am looking forward to enjoying the fruits of my non-labor  –  or maybe, in my case, since I only grew 1 thing successfully “fruit” would be more grammatically accurate.

Either-way: Buon Appetito!

The Figgiest Time of Year

Figs. Yuuummmmm!

Mission, black, green, kalamata, turkey, totato, and san piero.  It makes no difference to me.  I love them all.

The subtleness of green figs.  The pungency of mission figs.  Roasted figs. Raw figs. Figs paired with cheese and wine.

In Italy, I eat fichi (fig) gelato like it’s going out of style.  And, I have yet to master the buttery fichi cookies everyone’s Noni and sidewalk bakeries have down to a science.

Ooh, the envy I have for those who can grow my beloved figs in their backyards.  Or rather, can we please become the best of friends?!  (Because the chances of my brown thumb ever bearing me any luck with a fruit tree is not looking promising.)

Since it is almost time for fig season, I figured I better whet your palate.  Here are some of my favorite fool proof, figgy inspirations and others that I am dying to try!

Not only are they delicious, but figs up the presentation ante by 10-fold.  I am a big  fan of instant “wow!”  How gorgeous do these dishes look!?!

Click the images below to find the recipe on their respective owners’ webpage.

The BEST Soft and Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies

Ok, I’m not usually a big chocolate chip cookie fan.  Never have been.  In the hierarchy of classic lunch box faves like peanut butter, oatmeal raisin, and chocolate chip.  Chocolate chip would come in last place.

I was pretty neutral to them in general.  They were either soft and “meh” on flavor, or flavorful but too crunchy and hard – which is the way my mom always made them.  I am a soft, chewy cookie fan; what can I say?

I am sure you know where this is headed, but my days of chocolate chip cookie neutrality are over!

Welcome to the most perfectly, perfect chocolate chip cookie recipe!!!  I toyed with it to see if there were any tweaks to be had, but nope, Monique from Ambitious Kitchen nailed it! Recipe credits all go to AmbitiousKitchen.com.
The secret ?  Browning the butter! Oh, and a sprinkle of coarse sea salt!  (Note: Our family prefers milk chocolate chips, so thats the only type I used.)

You can thank me later… As you are pouring your 2nd glass of milk and munching on your 3rd cookie.  If you are on a diet, you may want to ignore this post entirely because these will ruin it… and continue to ruin it as your crave them day after day.

I am speaking from experience here because I may or may not have made this recipe 6 or 7 times in the past month.

4th of July weekend, 9 people devoured around 8 dozen of these over the course of 2 days.  I am electing to live in the ignorance of how many cookies that was per person…

And, I may or may not have invited our friends over last night as an excuse to make this recipe again.  Maybe we can say its the cookies that bring people together?  Quite possibly all East and West Germany needed post WWII were these chocolate-chippy bad boys?  I’ll just throw that delicious peacemaking tactic out there for future generations’ use 😉

Even if you aren’t a chocolate chip fan, you are about to become one, like I did.  Enjoy!!    

The not so Unicorn Mom – Part 3

After spending a several months in one of the more high-end neighborhoods Seattle, I started to notice something about the moms there… An overwhelming level of perfection.

This is the 3rd and final post of the series.

You can find part 1  here.

And part 2, here

All lifestyle decisions have some sort of inevitable trade-off. Giving up one thing in order to have another. For example, giving up time with your kids in favor of a career. Or, staying home with kids instead of having that second source of income.

For most of the families on “the hill,” in truth, there is no second stream of income necessary. For these primarily Ivy-League educated executives, doctors, lawyers, and business owners one income is more than sufficient to support a family. Even when a 2 bedroom, 100 year old, not-been-renovated-since-the-70s house costs over $800k, most of these families could still make ends meet with one income source. However, in order to afford the lifestyle of perfection that permeates the area and sets a new standard of “normal,” most families opt for both parents to work and I don’t mean part time. I mean full blown, high-powered careers.

While you would never know that many of these not-so- unicorn moms have had to give anything up for their lifestyle, I think they have. They have given up countless hours with their families and the opportunity to be there for their kids through life’s most mundane – but important – moments. The rat race of perfection that most of these households seek stretches their time and efforts thin. Everything from the elaborateness of your family vacation to the premier-ness of your child’s sports team is a competition. If someone were to invent some sort of point system, that would almost be better – at least people would know if they were winning.

I can’t help but doubt the sustainability of this lifestyle. I’m not referring to environmental sustainability here but long-term lifestyle sustainability with regards to time and effort. None of these families need new cars every 2 years, designer clothes, or professional interior design services. Nor do most of them truly need housekeepers, gardeners, or the like.

“Entitlement” is a word that is thrown around a lot these days – usually directed at seemingly spoiled teens or anyone who feels they are deserving of something that in someone else’s mind they didn’t earn.  I am starting to think the concept of “entitlement” is more widespread and does not exclude the highly educated or the economically privileged from its grasp. The desire to “have it all” is too powerful. Whether this manifests itself as desiring a powerful career and a family or desiring to maintains a certain lifestyle, this “have it all” mentality is pervasive.

When do you look in the mirror and say “we have enough,” or “we don’t need this?” It’s a challenging thing to have perspective on when everyone around you seemingly has (or appears to have) the same things or more. This is not an environment conducive to making cuts or determining what is truly necessary. People feel entitled to have the same lifestyle and luxuries that those around them have, without giving the burden or impact this lifestyle places on their family a second thought.

So rather than envying these not-so-unicorn moms, I will be grateful for what I have been blessed with. I choose to sacrifice perfection for quality time with my husband and my someday-children. In the end, my meadow of brown grass, pile of unfolded laundry, and mismatched dining room chairs beat competing in an exhausting and un-win-able perfection contest any day.

Sometimes we all need to step back, widen our scope, and take in a little perspective to see how incredibly fortunate we are.

The not so Unicorn Mom – Part 2

After spending a several months in one of the more high-end neighborhoods Seattle, I started to notice something about the moms there… An overwhelming level of perfection.

Last week I posted Part 1 of this series.  You can find it here.

My friend Jen is the mom that every kid would kill to have. She whips up the most elaborately detailed Halloween costumes on her sewing machine without batting an eye. I’m pretty sure that she is missing her calling as a professional costume designer! In case that isn’t enough to convince you, Jen is never short on awesome ideas for class auction projects, bakes like a pro, and is the first to volunteer for classroom help or field trips. Jen puts her kids’ needs first, which for normal people like Jen and I requires some level of sacrifice, like settling for Levis instead of Chanel and a Prius instead of a Mercedes G-Wagon. You know, HUGE life sacrifices. 😉

Jen and her husband were renting in this neighborhood for a few years before they bought a house elsewhere. Jen laughs about volunteering in her daughters’ classrooms with some of the other moms “on the hill.” A number of times, other moms suggested that Jen run the finger-painting station because “she is just so good at it.”  While I don’t doubt Jen’s superior finger-paint table management skills, Jen is pretty sure that the other moms’ brand new Marc Jacobs blouses making contact with some paint covered kindergartener’s fingers was their primary motivator. Why someone would volunteer in a kindergarten classroom wearing designer garb is beyond me, but Jen laughed on the inside and smiled as she dutifully took her seat at the finger-paint station.

I can’t imagine volunteering and essentially saying “I’m here to help, but oh, no I won’t do that. Someone else can do that!” Don’t get me wrong, there are certain activities that I wouldn’t exactly jump with joy over and there are certainly some I would prefer over others… However, participating in your kids’ lives requires the occasional stint at the proverbial finger-painting table.

My friend Jen’s story is just one example, but I could list dozens more. Yes, I admittedly am pining after their Pinterest worthy lives – perfect houses, fashionable attire, sweet rides, etc. But, time and time again, I am seeing that this level of perfection come at the cost of participation. Missing out on your children’s childhood in favor of spending time on “just one more deal” at the office, keeping imaginary cellulite at bay with lengthy personal training sessions, or whatever else you have to do to look perfect all the time (facials, massages, manicures?? I don’t even know!!). All these important things that keep you away from your kids are why you bothered to carefully screen your au pair, right?

I am going to ask a naïve and uninformed question, but I want to know. Why bother having kids if you don’t want to spend any time with them? Was it just the next logical life step but they underestimated how much time and energy a family sucks out of you?

I fully recognize how judge-y and jealous this post sounds…. But please, please, hang in there for part 3, I am going somewhere with all of this. Promise!!