When Life Gives You Blueberries

Do you live near a Produce Junction?  If not, you should really think about moving.  They have the best bargains!  You never quite know what you’ll find but you can be sure it will be fabulous and cost next to nothing.  Last weekend we got the most ginormous hostas for $7.50 each!  I’m telling you, they were big enough to divide into two or three plants each, and they were in full flower and almost as tall as I am!

One evening last week, my Mr. returned from work boasting about yet another fabulous Produce Junction find.  He told me blueberries were buy one get one free, and I was all, yah, so?  They do that all the time at the regular supermarket.  And he was all, no, you gotta see, and then he showed me and I was all, NO WAY!

It’s kinda hard to tell from this pic, but those containers are twice as deep and twice as wide as the normal blueberry containers.  To be exact, they are 16 ounces each.  Which is the way you’d normally see strawberries packaged.  And strawberries usually cost about half of what blueberries do, even though you get a lot more.  So, in other words, my Mr. got 32 ounces of blueberries for….(drum roll)… $5.99.  Score!

This is a lot of blueberries, my friend.  More than you could even bake into a pie.  I had to strategize.  I put on my thinking cap and the steam started seeping out of my ears.  I figured, make a blueberry compote, and then use some in that night’s dessert.  The rest can go into the fridge for… just, whatever.  I’ll give some ideas later in the post.  First, let’s make blueberry compote!

Start by rinsing the berries in cool water and dumping them into a pot.

Add in 1/3 cup of sugar, 3 tablespoons of cornstarch, and the juice and zest of half a lemon.  I just used a veggie peeler on my lemon and left the zest in big strips.

Next you just whack the whole mess on the stove for a bit.  Put it on a medium flame and keep an eye on it.  You can cook it for as little or as long as you like.  The longer it cooks, the more the fruit will break down and soften.  The berries will burst and give up their juices and then the cornstarch thickens it all up into a syrupy kind of delicious goo.  I personally like about a 70/30 ratio of whole fruit to goo, so I let mine bubble away for about 15 minutes.

Let it cool down a bit and transfer it to an airtight container in the fridge.  It should keep for a couple of weeks.  Here are some ideas for what to do with it:

Spoon it over vanilla ice cream or lemon sorbet
Spread it on toast or an english muffin
Stir it into a little greek yogurt and top with granola
Drizzle it over pancakes or waffles, instead of syrup
Mix in a teaspoon of dijon mustard and top a grilled salmon filet with it
or, how about… Eat it with a spoon, straight from the jar, because it’s scrumptious!

If you have any other delicious ideas for what you’d do with blueberry compote, be sure to leave me a comment at the bottom of this post.

Or, try this recipe for a delicious treat that is also great for your next backyard barbecue!

Goat Cheese Cheesecake Cups with Blueberry Compote
makes 18 cupcakes
(inspired by Anne Burrell)

5 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup graham cracker crumbs
2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt

1 8-ounce block cream cheese
6 ounces soft goat cheese
3/4 cup sour cream
3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
juice of half a lemon

Start with the crust: microwave the butter in a big, non-metal bowl for one minute on power level seven.  Dump in the graham cracker crumbs, sugar, cinnamon, and salt, and stir to combine.

Place a tablespoon or so of the mixture into the bottoms of each cupcake liner, and press into place with the bottom of a cup.

Next, the filling:  Chuck the cream cheese in the mixer along with the goat cheese.  Beat for about a minute to combine.  Add in the sour cream and sugar and beat for another minute.

Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula.  Crack in the eggs, and add in the vanilla and lemon juice.  Mix for another minute.  Divide the mixture between the 18 cupcake liners.

Bake at 325 degrees for 30 minutes or until set.  Cool and top with about two tablespoons of blueberry compote.

The tangy goat cheese is a really subtle backnote to the creamy rich cheesecake filling, while the graham crust adds a great crunchy contrast.  And that berry compote is just pure, sweet summer on a spoon…

Here’s some printable 4×6 cards for your recipe box!  These will surely be some of your classic summertime faves…

Blueberry Compote Recipe Card
Goat Cheese Cheesecake Cups Recipe Card


Backyard Barbecue Beauty

So now that I’ve given away all my beach beauty secrets, I thought I’d follow up with a few more summer makeup tips, for those times when you still want to keep it light and breezy, but maybe just want to play up your features a bit more.

If you haven’t already read my post on Beach Beauty, well… what the heck are you waiting for?  Don’t waste another minute feeling a) drab and colorless, or b) runny, creasey and cakey, in this heat!  Just because the mercury is high does not mean you can’t look pretty.  Beach Beauty is the perfect starting point for your best summer look.

…ok so now you’ve read it right?  You know all about my DIY bb cream and the most universally flattering blush and how to pretty up your pucker while preventing labial ephelides?  Cool, ok, so then you are now ready to hear about how to make the most of your peepers without looking (or feeling!) too “made up.”

Much as I love my beach beauty face, there are times when it doesn’t completely cut it.  I may not want to wear a lot of eye makeup on the beach, but how about all those fun backyard barbcues?  Once the sun goes down a bit, the shades come off, there’s a soft breeze blowing and maybe a little margarita buzz…  It’s nice to flash a little sparkle in your Mr.’s direction.  So, start with your beach beauty-ful face and dial it up a notch with these easy steps.

Luminizer, aka Illuminator, aka Brightener.  Every brand has their own version, and this is my favorite:

Yves Saint Laurent Touche Eclat

…however, it is a bit spendy, and, also I have to go to the mall to get it.  For some strange reason, my five- and three-year old boys don’t enjoy makeup shopping at the mall.  (???  I know, right?)  So, right now I’m using this:

L'Oreal Magic Lumi Concealer, Fair

L’Oreal Magic Lumi Highlighter

…and guess what?  I can’t even tell the difference.

I dab a bit on the inner corners of my eyes as well as the undereye area, and pat it in with a fingertip.  It’s a lot lighter than concealer, and it doesn’t settle into fine lines at all.  It perks up your whole face!  It’s like a power nap in stick form!

Next step:  waterproof eyeliner.  The most budge-proof formula I’ve ever used has to be Make-up Forever.  MAC is also good.  But, again, mall.  Maybe something like this:

Revlon ColorStay Eyeliner Pencil, Black Brown 202

Revlon Colorstay Eyeliner

I like it in a really dark brown, and I just apply really thin little dashes along the upper lashes only.  It just makes your lashes look thicker and darker, which is something I really need, being a ginger with blond-tipped eyelashes.

The last step is optional, depending on the level of make-up-ed-ness you are after.  It is mascara.  Here is my favorite:

Maybelline Great Lash Lots Of Lashes Washable Mascara, Very  Black

Maybelline Great Lash Lots of Lashes

…and a post on why I like it so much.  But for those really steamy days, something like this is a great option:

Maybelline Great Lash Clear Mascara for Lash and Brow

Maybelline Great Lash Clear Mascara

It just darkens your lashes and helps them to stand out more.  And, it won’t run or flake.  And, you can use it on your brows too!

Now you are all set for some backyard summer party time!  A fresh-faced, natural look that feels weightless, protects you from sun damage, and flatters!  Have a margarita for me ;oP

Give Your Oven the Night Off!

Here is a seasonal, refreshing, and delicious meal for a hot summer evening!  With a little tweak for the kiddos, this one can be a home run for the whole family!  And you don’t even have to use your stove or oven!

The first time I heard about a watermelon salad, I thought it seemed like an odd combination of flavors.  But after one bite, it all made sense.  So delicious!  And, this type of preparation has actually been around forever in the Mediterranean part of the world.  Those Mediterraneans sure know what works when it comes to food!

Watermelon Salad with Grilled Shrimp
(serves 2 adults and 2 small children)

1 pound uncooked jumbo shrimp
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 tablespoon garlic powder
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 seedless watermelon
1 pint grape tomatoes
4 oz. crumbled feta (I like the goats’ milk kind)
bunch of fresh mint
about 2 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
juice of 1 lime

Another thing I love about this recipe is that it’s so quick to prepare, and, besides the plates and forks you ate off of, you’ll only end up with a cutting board, one knife, and one bowl to clean.

Start by peeling the shrimp, and placing them in a bowl with about a tablespoon of olive oil, the chili powder, the garlic powder, and a bit of salt and pepper.  Toss them around to coat, and pop them in the fridge while you go preheat the barbecue.

While the shrimp are marinating, and the grill is warming up, you can slice the watermelon into thick wedges.

Take out four wedges, for the grownup plates, remove the rind, and cut them into cubes.  Divide them between two plates.

The remaining wedges are for the kiddies.  I can’t explain it, but for my kids, watermelon is not watermelon unless it is in triangle form…

Now halve the grape tomatoes.  Tumble a few handfuls over the watermelon cubes, for the grownups, and into neat piles alongside the watermelon triangles for the kids.  (Woe be unto the parent who allows tomato and watermelon to touch on a kid’s plate.)

Crumble feta over the tomatoes and watermelon on the grownup plate.  I omitted the feta for my kids…

Top each of the grownup plates with about two tablespoons of fresh mint, roughly chopped or torn…

…my kids are green-phobic so this was also omitted for them.

Pop the plates in the fridge to keep everything good and cold while you go grill the shrimp.

On a very hot grill, shrimp will only take about three minutes on the first side, and another one minute on the other.  Don’t overcook them!  They will get rubbery and dry.  You want some good char marks on them but they should still be juicy.

Chop a few shrimp into bites for the little ones, and top the grownups’ salads with the rest. Now grownups each get a drizzle of olive oil and a squeeze of tangy lime.  Enjoy!  Easy!

Let’s Talk Business – Hell Week

I feel like it’s such a cliche to say, but this week was so freaking busy!!!!  I’m reeling from it, and it’s not even over yet.  Working as a freelancer is wonderful, but one of the things a person needs to be prepared for is the inconsistency of it.

I have about 5 steady clients.  Normally things run smoothly, and they’re patient about when things get done.  But about 5 or 6 times a year, 3-4 of them need me to finish stuff up IMMEDIATELY!!!!

I put a lot of pressure on myself to please everyone (which is futile) and a lot of pressure on myself to go easy on myself (do-able!), so it’s a very tricky, stressful paradox.

When I first started out in this career, and really up until just this month, I’ve allowed this phenomenon to eat me up inside, make me hate my job, and make me question my own capabilities and beat myself up about why I ever thought I’d be any good and/or make any money.  In short, I have acted like a psychotic, self-destructive lunatic.

Now, my goal is to achieve inner peace, love my job, love my work, and maintain the trust of my clients.  It’s so freaking complex!

Basically, I have to take things slow, be honest with my clients about the time things take to get finished, and find time to work late.  The working late part is really the hardest.  It makes me really scared about the affects of over-doing, over-working, etc.  But something that helps is to think about how my hard work is going to benefit the kids (giving them a comfortable, safe home, hopefully a good education, etc), and as long as I take some time to myself in the midst of it, (I have to have at least a half-hour of time to meditate or stare at a tree or something peaceful like that, little breaks in between each project, and decent food, and good music) I survive, the work gets done, the client is pleased, and money comes home.

So, that’s where I’m at this week, and probably next week as well.  I’d better get to grocery shopping so I’ll have my decent food.

Beach Beauty

Ok, so right now, in my part of the world, it’s not quite ten a.m. and already the temperature is in the 80’s.  By mid-afternoon they’re saying it’s going to feel like it’s in the triple digits.  What kind of a kook would even want to bother with makeup on this kind of a day???  Maybe a freckly, pale, reddish-haired kook?

My name is Allie and I am a ginger kid.  I am also terribly vain, most of the time, and I simply cannot set foot out in public with all my worst flaws on display for the whole world to see.  Even on the hottest, most humid, melt-your-face-off days, there is something in me that just can’t resist a little something to brighten up my appearance.

Of course, there are certain instances where nobody, even the vainest of gingers, wants to feel or look heavily made up.  (The beach, for instance?)  I absolutely lighten way up on cosmetics on a day like this.  So, if you are also freckly and pale, and maybe have some cellulite or stretch marks you aren’t so proud of, read on for some of my best summer beauty tricks.

Everything to do with summer beauty, for me, begins and ends with a little bronze.  I’ve been a fan of self-tanner since way back before most people ever even heard of it.  There used to be this stuff called QT…?  If you remember QT give me a shout in the comment section…  Anyhow, now you can get self-tanner any- and everywhere, from every suncare brand imaginable.  If you have never tried it, be not afraid.  They are absolutely goof-proof.  If you can apply body lotion, you can do self-tanner.

Now, I gave up on ever looking “tan” a very long time ago.  To any other gingers out there reading this post, you are never going to look like Jennifer Lopez.  That’s not what this is about.  This is about not blinding people with the glare coming off your pasty-white ass.  It’s really a public service.  Also, I have found, that a little bit of a glow goes a long way to minimize any unevenness in your skin tone.  Light Bulb!  Bye-bye cellulite!  See ya later, stretch marks!  Freckles, I’ll be seeing a lot less of you, too!  It can even make you look thinner!  It’s a miracle product, I’m telling you.

As for brands, I have tried so many, and I really don’t think it matters much.  They all do pretty much the same thing, for me it mostly comes down to the fragrance, price, and where I can buy it.  I go through a lot so it’s nice if I can pick it up while I’m at the grocery store or on a WalMart run.  Right now I’m using Sublime Bronze, (which has some shimmer in it, FYI), but I also like Neutrogena Micro Mist for hands-free application.  When I’m really feeling lazy and I don’t even want to have to wash my hands after.  Which, btw, don’t forget to do, or you will end up with the weirdest orange palms, and everyone will know your secret.

So now on to my favorite summer beauty secret, which I call “homemade BB cream.”  If you are a beauty junkie, such as myself, then you’ve probably noticed the latest thing on the market: BB cream.  It’s basically just a tinted moisturizer on steroids.  They have a lot of serum-y ingredients, like anti-oxidants and peptides, and a lot of them are a bit like primers, smoothing out the skin’s texture.  Usually they have a bit of sunscreen in them too, but beware: it’s not nearly enough for a ginger.  I like a 50+ full-spectrum sunblock.  I don’t need any more freckles, that is for sure.

Ok, so what I like to do, after washing my face with a baby washcloth (great trick, it’s the perfect amount of exfoliation and you can buy them anywhere for so cheap), is put a pea-sized drop of each: burqa-strength sunblock, self-tanner, and an all-in-one foundation/primer in the palm of my hand, rub them all together, and smooth all over my face like moisturizer.  One step.  Done.  Evened out and protected, with a little bit of glow to boot.  For my skin, that’s all the moisture I need, especially in the summer when I tend to be a little oilier anyway.  I use a richer cream at night if I feel like I need it.  You can use whatever your own favorite products are, or you can try what I’m currently into, which is. again, based mostly on price and what is nearby and easy to find:

Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Dry-Touch Sunblock, SPF 100

Neutrogena Ultra-Sheer SPF 100+

L'Oreal Sublime Bronze Self-Tanning Lotion, Deep Natural

L’oreal Sublime Bronze Self-Tanner

Hard Candy Just Face It One Step Foundation, Medium

Hard Candy One-Step Foundation

So, that covers moisture and protection, but I also like to rosy up my cheeks with a bit of Benetint, which is, hands down, the most universally flattering blush on the market.  You will look like you just came in from a run.  Healthy and fresh.  And, it’s a liquid, so it just sinks right in and never gets cakey in the heat, like a powder or cream might.

Benefit Benetint 

Other than that I just like a little something on my lips, for moisture, shimmer, and also, preferably, for extra sun protection.  I’d rather not end up with any more labial ephelides, which sounds gross and embarrassing but it’s just a fancy word for a freckle on your lip.  I like orangey-reds, peaches, and corals with my skin tone so here’s what I’m using now:

CoverGirl Natureluxe Gloss Balm, Coral 230

Cover Girl Natureluxe Gloss Balm, SPF 15

And, last but not least, a pair of UV-blocking sunglasses.  The bigger the better!  For more sun protection, and for glamour!  And you can skip the heavy eye makeup… in this heat, it will never last anyway…

What are your favorite summer beauty products?  Leave a comment at the bottom of the post and share the wealth!  Don’t we all love a good recommendation?

Meal Planning – Sigh.

It took a lot of discipline for me to plan the next week’s dinners today.  It’s so gorgeous outside.  Fridays I’m off and the kids don’t go to daycare, and it’s all I can do to stop myself from lounging around all day in my sweats while the kids destroy our home.  But, this is the only day I’m able to go to the store, and if I don’t do it relatively early in the day, it haunts me and I can’t enjoy myself.

I’d like to thank the good friends who came to Brooke’s birthday party over the weekend and gave us beautiful presents.  Those presents came in handy while I was writing this post!

He’s not afraid to draw dresses with pink crayon!

Making a pretty bead necklace.

Also, a very big thank you to the makers of Pirate’s Booty for giving me a laugh.

I am very mature.

‘So here’s what we’re eating!  You may notice there’s some cheese in the plans.  That’s right, I’m eating dairy again.  I have my reasons, which aren’t that I couldn’t live without it.  It’s that I just started having a gut feeling that dairy was not the problem.  I plan on going into more detail about that later.  For now, I need to get to the store.

Happy Father’s Day!

To all the super dads and granddads out there: here are some necktie cookies for Father’s Day:

Making these cookies can be a great boredom-buster for kids on summer break!

Use your favorite cutout cookie recipe.  Here are two of mine:

Sugar Cookies 
Gluten- and Dairy-Free Sugar Cookies

 Kids love dumping the ingredients into the mixer, turning it on, and watching the dough come together.  I give mine a little hunk of the dough to play with so that I can let my anal-perfectionist-virgo-freak flag fly while rolling and cutting out the shapes…

Speaking of which, I drew mine on heavy cardstock and let my five-year-old cut it out.  That was my template, which I layed on the dough and cut around with a paring knife.

Kids can help make the royal icing too!  Here’s a great recipe:

Royal Icing

As you can see I’m a big fan of Sweetopia…  be sure to also check out her decorating tutorials!

Make a few extra cookies for the kids to decorate!

I made these for a Father’s Day Brunch, and will be setting them out on a platter, but if you are lucky enough to have lots of dad’s in your life, and want to give the cookies as gifts, try packaging them in clear cello bags tied with a handsome ribbon.

Have a happy Father’s Day from YinMomYangMom!