Main Courses

Gourmet Pizza in a Pinch a la Trader Joe’s

I absolutely LOVE to entertain my family and friends!

Sometimes I’m really in the mood to whip up something that entails about fourteen trips to the grocery store (even with a list, I tend to forget things) two days of prep work and then, occasionally a “do over”.

Other times (more often than not) I want something as utterly FABULOUS as it is delicious AND easy!

I spend enough time running around like a crazy person as it is. So when it’s time for fun with friends and family I want to enjoy it (not be so tired that I’m tempted to sneak away and crawl into my favorite jammies before the night is done).

But I have found that I have a secret weapon….Trader Joe’s.

It is my stand by for easy, scrumptious, fast and FABULOUS.

These are the simple ingredients.

  • Mozzarella
  • Fire Roasted Red Peppers
  • Whole Wheat Pizza Dough
  • Pitted Kalamata Olives

Now, the most complicated part is…

-drum roll please-

Take the Pizza dough out of the fridge  20 minutes before rolling.  Really, honestly and truly, that is the most difficult part.

Because I always forget.

While the dough is getting to room temp,  prepare the other 3 ingredients-

  • Slice the mozzarella into flat medallions.
  • Drain the fire roasted red peppers and slice into long, thin, strips.
  • Drain the Kalamata olives and slice or you can leave them whole if you like.

Now for the fun part.

  • Sprinkle flour on your work surface, roll the dough into 1/4 inch thickness. I buy the whole wheat, it’s SO GOOD and my girlies who usually turn their noses up at anything whole wheat, love it!
  • Now continue rolling- I like a rectangle shape- but a circle is fine.
  • Place the dough on a greased pan.
  • Next, brush the dough with some olive oil.

I LOVE olive oil- and I always have it on hand. Married to that delicious Greek, ya know, comes with the territory  (and it’s good as a hair mask…just an FYI).


After brushing on the olive oil, place the yummy mozzarella all over the dough.

It will bubble and melt into little divine, gooey puddles of deliciousness.

I’m drooling…

OK… focus!

  • Next, arrange the roasted red peppers and kalamata olives all over the mozzarella.
  • Sprinkle with a little salt and pepper and even some oregano if you happen to have it.
  • Place the pizza in the oven and bake 10-12 minutes. (my oven is screwy, so my pizza took 15 minutes)

Then get ready for all of the “oooooooh’s and aaaaaaaaah’s” and “How long did it take you? It’s so beautiful!!”

Simply smile and reply, “Oh not too terribly long. I wanted to make something special for you-you’re worth it.”

(You can thank me later)

And that my friend is how to make a gourmet pizza in a pinch!



Be Still.

As I woke up and looked out my window at the majestic morning sunrise, I was instantly still and quiet.

I found myself inhale and exhale so deeply that it forced a surprise yawn to push its way slowly out of my mouth.

I just sat there.

In awe.

Totally engulfed by the magical moment unfolding in front of me.

The warm golden rays looked like honey stretching through the beautiful dogwood blooms, as if they were trying to touch me…

my face,

my neck,

my shoulders,

then sliding down to my chest in a way that just seemed to comfort me and quiet me and remind me to, “be still.”

When I was a little girl, my grandmother used to tell me to “be still” when I was bothering my little sister  (like squeezing the daylights out of her cheeks…affectionately, of course)  or being  in general too rambunctious.

It was  such a very sweet and very loving way to say, “be quiet,”  or, “now keep your hands to yourself.”

But the words “be still” have taken on a whole new meaning for me in my adult life. Of course I’m always remembering my grandmother’s words while frantically trying to suck back in the less eloquent ones that just seem to bubble out when I’ve had it with my kids.

Sometimes life just has a way of pushing you along. It’s almost like a ginormous broom is just sweeping you forward, one big swoop at a time.

I find myself running up on my tippy toes just to keep up.

You know what I’m talking about. We’ve all fallen into that insidious cycle of never enough time, too many people pulling you in too many directions, not enough sleep, what’s next on the list syndrome.

I don’t know about you, but every now and then, I need a little reminder of what’s really important in life.

What I’m talking about is that surreal moment in the middle of mayhem that catches you off guard and reminds you to “be still.”

For me, that happened today.

Just a few moments ago.

As the rays of the beautiful sunrise stretched through my grandmother’s dogwood tree.

Thanks Grandmother,  I will.



Did Someone Just Say FREE Starbucks?

Do you by chance have one of these?

If the answer is yes, then you probably love coffee, especially Starbucks coffee, as much as I do.

And if you don’t…

well, then…..

I just don’t know what to say, frankly.

BUT, if you DO have a Starbucks tumbler then this is…




Today…Starbucks is giving you a free cup o’coffee when you bring in your own Starbucks reusable tumbler.

I’m serious.

I don’t mess around when I’m talking coffee.

So grab your keys (and tumbler), jump in your car, (and buckle up)…

Safety first.

take a moment to enjoy the beautiful Spring scenery..

and drive into the parking lot of your local –

then enjoy your FREE cup of fabulously delicious perfect every time Starbucks coffee.

“One person can save the trees, together we can save a forest.” ~ Starbucks

Now if that doesn’t make you SMILE than I don’t know what will.

See ya at Starbucks!


Soups & Salads

Dinner’s in the bag with Trader Joe’s

Honestly, I can’t even remember how many years I’ve been frequenting my local Trader Joe’s. But what I do know for sure is that I DO LOVE my Beloved Trader Joe’s. And what’s not to love? It’s a fun, friendly, customer always comes first kinda place- full of delicious, quick and easy meals. They also do their part in keeping their prices low, have yummy food sampling every day and encourage customers to bring their own grocery bag…

a bag that earns you a ticket in the monthly $25 worth of groceries drawing.

I have been trying to win this drawing for however-many-years that I have been happily shopping there. EVERY time I say, “one of these days I’M going to win this!”

Literally, out loud I say, “I’m going to win this”.

As a side note, I’m a big believer in the power of positive thinking! Life’s too short to be all crabby and crotchety. I believe in making a conscious effort to be happy…  I am truly an optimist, – I love to come across a really grumpy stranger in the course of my day and see if I can make them smile! If you BELIEVE… you WILL …and guess what I get the front spot almost every time.

With that being said, I was in the throngs of trying to get this blog up (with the generous help of My Yanni, my husband, and well…enough said) which was really fun and exciting, but at the same time reminded me a bit of childbirth…only without the epidural.

So maybe…just maybe…I was a bit optimistically challenged – temporarily.

And I was sick, and it was Spring Break and we were on a staycation, and I was sick and it was Spring Break…(as in the kids were home and bored and the ONLY ones that didn’t go anyplace).

So, I took my 9 year old daughter, Sweet Cheeks, with me for a quick run to Trader Joe’s and was reminded that it would be the LAST time that they would ever do the $25 grocery drawing EVER! I looked at Sweet Cheeks and she said ,(before I could coo out my usual, “I’m going to win this…” ) “I know, I know, ‘you’re going to win it'”… with that, I’ve heard this a million times tone.

And with that, we were on our way.

A week later (on April Fool’s Day of all days) I received the phone call.

I had won the drawing. There were over 900 tickets. And I had won the very… last… drawing.

You would have thought that I’d won the lotto.

I kid you not.

But in more ways than one, it was another example to my children (and to myself) that the power of positive thinking is alive and well.

AND this is were I parked when I went to collect my $25 worth of groceries (plus all the other things that I just couldn’t live without!).

Did you notice?….front spot.

Now I can’t take you all the way to Traders Joe’s and not a share a delicious, simple, easy and pocketbook friendly favorite recipe, can I?

It’s been a family staple, I call it Chicken Corn Chowder.

Well…here it is-

These are the ingredients

Now, I’ll go slow, this gets a little tricky.

Open cans and drain.

Put in pot.

Pour in box of soup.

Heat up.

Are you still with me?

Oh, yeah – add the chili pepper sauce a few drops at a time until you achieve desired heat.

And I like it HOT like My Yanni.

(Sorry, couldn’t resist.)

It’s as simple as that!

And boy is it DELISH! Even my picky kids love it! A one stop shopping PLUS a one pot meal!

Garnish with Trader Joe’s baked chips.

I’m happy! Are you happy?!

In the days and weeks to come, I will be sharing many of my favorite things with all of you. Things that make my journey in “perfecting the art of life in suburbia” a little easier. Trader Joe’s is DEFINITELY one of them!

Enjoy and may you have the front spot every time,



Spring In Suburbia

Spring is one of my favorite seasons and this is why…

Finally, all of the long, dark, dreary, cold of Winter just seems to melt away with the snow.

It’s like I get seasonal amnesia or something.

For months I whine and complain about how cold I am…

and how many LESS minutes of daylight we have…

how much I STRONGLY DISLIKE all of the slush and salt that gets trampled into my house…

and how many more times I can tolerate wiping my dog’s feet after he goes in and out for the gazillionth time…

and how will I make it through ONE-MORE-all-the-kids-at-home-bored-on-a-snow-day??

And then all of a sudden, when I’m quiet sure that therapy is eminent, I walk out my door, right here, smack dab in the middle of suburbia…

and see this…

and this…

and this!

And I’m reminded of all of life’s possibilities. I mean, if these fragile, delicate, little hosta leaves can push through this hard, cold, ground then I can surely push through MY life’s challenges, right?

And hold on to the hope that Spring brings.

Even if I feel like a red tulip in the middle of a Day Lilly patch sometimes.

I can find reassurance in the spectacular display of Spring in all her GLORY. It’s the promise of a new beginning, a fresh start and a warm reminder of what’s in store.

Even if that does include wiping Oakley’s face of the fresh Spring mud.

Wishing you a Spring in your step as well as your heart!


(See more flowers from Reluctant Entertainer)


Have a Starbucks and a SMILE!

Today started just like any other. Woke up. Stumbled into the kitchen, turned on coffee pot ( Starbucks, of course) and considered sticking my head (with mouth open) under the stream of hot java rather than the carafe.

Assisted the kiddos – animals -breakfast mess – lunches – school work – back packs AND finally out- the- door.

Next on the agenda…the gym.

UGH, the gym. Not today, I’m too tired, it’s raining and I have a gazillion things “To Do.”

But, before I realized what I was doing, I was driving to the gym in the rain.


BUT, I got a decent spot  (I’m all about good parking spots, especially front spots….more on that later)! Wrapped up chatting with my mom, put the car in park, looked up and noticed a new sign – “Parking for Salon Only! Others Will Be Towed”

But it’s raining. This was a GOOD spot. Evidently the good spot mojo wasn’t with me today.

I made it in to the gym, at least my favorite machine was empty…(O.k. mojo was coming back) – ipod on, stretch, (crack, snap, pop…not the body it used to be) and I was on my merry way. Instantly the music filled my head and my body followed. I was getting into the groove.

And maybe, just maybe, there was a little air guitar going on.

I was on a roll…until the blasted machine went back to start! WHAT!?! I had NO CLUE how long I had been all arms pumping and sweat flying and singing (inside my head I hope). 20 minutes? 15? 30? So I started the whole thing over…

Only to have it happen again.

I was honked  (to say the least). But I finished the workout…hopped in my car and drove to destination #2 of my day.


Oh my Starbucks how I love thee…

I mean The Statue of Liberty has her torch.

Venus has her shell.

Joan of Arc had her sword.

I have my Starbucks…in hand…every day.

It could be worse.

This is how I start my everyday.

This is what I order.

Venti half caf with cream and a venti water (must stay well hydrated as well as caffeinated).

But you know what the best part is? Besides the warm, delicious, rich goodness that I can never seem to replicate at home that is. It’s the people who work there that make Starbucks what it is. The personal customer service and care that is poured into each cup.

There have been days when I’ve pulled into the parking lot all tangled up in the drama of life, (too many to count in the past year) on the phone with a loved one who’s informing me that I need to meet them at the ER. I’m not sure why I always end up in the parking lot of Starbucks, probably because I secretly hope that holding onto that cup of coffee will somehow give me strength. And do you know what? Every single time as I sit there trying to wipe the mascara from my eyes, magically a barista appears beside my window holding my venti half caf. They deliver MY coffee to ME for free. I kid you not. Baristas may come and go but one thing remains the same, the quality of care that they give is as good as the quality of coffee that they serve.

Today started out not so fabulous.

But by the time I walked out of Starbucks, I had my coffee AND a smile.

Wishing you the same!



Life’s Little Wonders

I am always amazed and humbled at the little surprises that life seems to dish out.

Sometimes we need to look really hard to see these surprises and other times they just seem to show up in front of you when you least expect it.

In my case, it was in my beach bag in my garage.

It was just an ordinary day at the end of an extraordinary week (more about that in the days to come). I went into the garage to grab some sunscreen before the first round of Spring cleaning in my flower beds. It had been a crazy week and something about the warm weather and sunshine just helps me clear my head.

And there it was, a bird’s nest. A perfect, little nest. In MY garage.

I love nests. And eggs.

This was a sign – a real sign that life had given me letting me know that I was walking on the right path. I was getting ready to launch my blog the very next day and a bird was part of my logo. My site was Robin’s egg blue, AND I love nests. I basked in the glory of my little sign for a moment. Then I ran in the house, told everyone my good news and immediately took a picture of the nest (my nest) for proof.

The next day I made my first post and I shared the nest with all of you (but you don’t know the rest of the story).

I kept looking for the momma bird. I never saw her again. I was panicked. Did I ruin my life’s little wonder? Did I scare the momma bird away by unknowingly touching the bag before I knew of the nest? Oh dear, dear, dear. My heart sank. For 24 hours I felt like doom and gloom were hanging around my neck like a synthetic scarf on a hot day.

Until I got the phone call from my daughter, Sassafrass, (my eldest, my tween, my nothing gets past her first born) “MOM, THERE IS AN EGG IN THE NEST!” My heart stopped. “Really?” “Are you sure?” Of course I knew that she was sure, she is my nothing gets past her first born but I just had to hear it again.

Sure enough, there was an egg in the nest. My heart sang!

Then the next day on Easter, another…

and another…

and another!

Today there are four precious, sweet, full of hope, little eggs in the nest.

I cannot even begin to tell you how much strength and inspiration I have gathered with each egg. The beauty of this story is that I’ve had all of this strength and inspiration and hope inside me all along! I just needed a little nudge to remind me.

Sometimes life just gives you little gifts…things that only you would understand. Take a moment, stand still and look around. What gift is life trying to give you?

Wishing you a day full of wonder,



Darling Chocolate Ganache Cupcakes

SOOOOOO, day number two of blogging for me and I must say that it’s been a very whirlwind, very exciting, adrenaline filled weekend! Which for me, is actually more the norm than anything low key and relaxing! I’m always multitasking 15 things at once.  Picture the guy at the circus that twirls plates on sticks only the plates are filled with baked goodies, paint brushes, my handy dandy glue gun, and various other little ditties that assist me in my daily creative endeavors.

Oh, and my Starbucks.  I ALWAYS have my Starbucks (venti half caf with cream). yum. I’m actually enjoying one right this very minute as I’m typing.

More about that later.

But while I’m sharing I might as well let you in on another hobby of mine…reading magazines-the home/ decor/food/design/entertaining, you name it. I also have Food Network or HGTV or Fine Living on at all times!

Even when I’m gone, I leave it on Food Network for my dog, Oakley. Seriously.

He loves it and it helps him relax, watching all of that delicious, beautiful, goodness. He told me.

So, I’m always looking for yummy, EASY, recipes that are fun and seasonal  that my family and friends can all enjoy! For Easter, I was in charge of dessert, so I dug  through my “recipe file” and came up with the Chocolate Ganache Cupcakes topped with the sweet little phyllo bird nests. (I love bird nests….don’t worry, I won’t get started on that tangent right now) I figure that cupcakes with sweet little yummy nests can be enjoyed any day, right?

Now for the recipes…


I used Ree’s recipe, (aka The Pioneer Woman) but you can use anything you’d like, even a box cake in a pinch!


  • 2 cups Flour
  • 2 cups Sugar
  • ¼ teaspoons Salt
  • 4 Tablespoons (heaping) Cocoa
  • 2 sticks Butter
  • 1 cup Boiling Water
  • ½ cups Buttermilk
  • 2 whole Beaten Eggs
  • 1 teaspoon Baking Soda
  • 1 teaspoon Vanilla
  • Preparation Instructions

First, combine flour, sugar, and salt in a mixing bowl.

Next melt some butter in a sauce pan. Once the butter is melted, add the cocoa and stir together.
Pour in boiling water allowing mixture to boil for 30 seconds. Pour mixture over the flour mixture and stir gently to cool.

Mix the buttermilk, beaten eggs, baking soda, and vanilla together and stir into chocolate mixture.

Now I made cupcakes not a sheet cake, so I put paper cups in the cupcake tins and used an ice cream scoop to put the batter in easily and evenly (the batter is very thin) and then bake at 350-degrees for 20-25 minutes.


For the icing, I wanted something smooth and shiny to set off the nests, so I turned to Ina Garten for a little help. Ganache sounds very fancy and very difficult but it’s very simple and very tasty, so I love to use it! (I’m all about anything that’s easy AND impressive)


  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 8 ounces good semisweet chocolate chips
  • 1/2 teaspoon instant coffee granule

Place the heavy cream, chocolate chips, and instant coffee into a double boiler over simmering water and cook, stirring occasionally, until mixture is melted and smooth.


Now for the show stopper…the darling little bird nests. For this, only Martha would do! Now I made mini nests in mini cupcake tins so I ended up with 24 little gems. Make sure to watch that they don’t burn – mine were finished in 10 minutes.

Ingredients (makes 12):

  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, plus more for tin
  • 8 ounces (1/2 package) kataifi, thawed
  • 4 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • Jelly beans, for serving

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Coat the 12 mini-muffin tins with melted butter.  Next separate the phyllo and lay them out in 1-inch-thick bundles, then cut bundles into 2 inches pieces with kitchen shears. Put all of the phyllo into a bowl and shake it into a loose pile with fingers. Pour in the melted butter, sugar, and cinnamon and toss until all is coated. Evenly divide the phyllo and place into the 12 mini-muffin cups. You’ll want to gently press the sides and bottom to form the shape of a nest. Cook 15 to 20 minutes until golden. Let cool in the tin and then remove.


Now, once the cupcakes are cooled, dip them in the ganache and while they are wet gently press the nests on the top, and fill with jelly beans!


Darling, easy peasy lemon squeezy chocolate ganache cupcakes topped with adorable little nests.


From me to you!



Little Birdhouse In My Soul

I have always adored nests. They represent such hope and inspiration.

And I love the color of the eggs. Soft pastels, all smooth and perfect, nestled within the twigs and branches that have been dutifully collected by the parents.


In the Spring I decorate with nests tucked all around my house. I even have this wreath that I made, greeting guests as they come into my home.

I really LOVE nests. And Eggs.

Interestingly enough, as I have been creating and building and planning this blog (with my husband, or My Yanni, as I will call him) a little bird has been building right along with me, without me even knowing, until this weekend. I looked into one of the beach bags in the garage for sunscreen and I couldn’t believe what I saw! A tiny, perfect, little nest. A REAL nest. I was speechless (which for me is rare, at best).

Because I love nests.

And my blog is Robin’s egg blue.

And I have a bird as part of my logo.

And did I mention that I love nests?


I thought it only appropriate to write my first post on this blessed day filled with hope and promise and inspiration (especially after a weekend filled with awe and serendipity).

Today Jesus gave us all a new beginning and I can’t wait to spread my wings knowing that I have a little birdhouse in my soul…

…and in my garage…

…and on my door…

…and in my foyer…

…and in my kitchen…

I’ll stop now.