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Smoggy view from halfway up the trail

Runyon Canyon is no secret gem of Hollywood. In fact, if you live in Hollywood you have either been to Runyon, been invited to Runyon, done a boot camp at Runyon, gone on a date to Runyon, done yoga in Runyon, or avoided Runyon because everyone you know has talked about it and you are the type of person who likes to avoid all things trendy and faddish. So, no, I am not revealing some hidden treasure that is known only to me and the coolest kids in town; but none the less, I am compelled to write about my rekindled love for this often overrated Hollywood hiking trail.

I have to admit, I have not always been a steadfast lover of Runyon Canyon. In fact, I stopped going altogether a couple years back because I just didn’t find it to be that enjoyable of an experience. First of all, parking anywhere near the park is RIDICULOUS! You’ll circle around for at least 30 minutes before you can find a spot and even then there is no guarantee that you are not missing some “no parking” sign that is going to leave you with a ticket when you return from your adventures. Secondly, everyone and their dog (literally…every dog in Hollywood) is there and don’t even bother trying to go on a weekend. Thirdly, everyone runs around the trail like they are auditioning for their next big break; guys with their shirts off, overly tanned and oiled, girls wearing as little clothing as they can possibly get away with in public, everyone in Ray-Bans, and everyone looking as if they spent hours trying to look like they didn’t try at all. It’s all a little silly to be honest, but, hey, we’re in Hollywood right?! Needless to say, I stopped going and I didn’t miss it at all!

But then I got Nina…well, and moved close enough to walk there!

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Look at that face!

The thing about Runyon Canyon is that it is one of the few, if not only, hiking trails in the area that is not just dog friendly but off-leash. This means that my sweet little Nina puppy can run around to her hearts content without having to be confined to her slow and often breathless mommy. It wasn’t until I had a dog of my own that I realized what a joy this is, not just for the pup, but for the owner as well (and I know those of you who don’t have a dog are rolling your eyes at me…I get it, I used to be you). Nina looks so happy prancing around with her tongue hanging out, fetching sticks, running all over the place and sometimes playing with other dogs (she’s a little anti-social, not sure where she gets that from…) And I get to enjoy some fresh air and exercise and some of the greatest views in town.

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Now that I am walking distance from the canyon, I don’t have to deal with the issue of trying to park, which honestly makes a HUGE difference. Also, I will usually go at around 10 or 11am on a weekday because this tends to be a less busy time to go. (Except for today, today was SUPER BUSY! Doesn’t anyone work in this town?!) And with a sweet thing like Nina as my companion, I pay less attention to all the “beautiful people” walking the trail and more attention on her cuteness! The best part about it is that Nina gets herself so nice and worn-out that she will happily sleep for the rest of the day.

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So, my love for Runyon Canyon has been reignited but only under these specific criteria. If you don’t have a dog or are not a dog lover and you don’t live close enough to walk there, I would say you shouldn’t even bother. There are plenty of prettier, quieter, and less trendy places to enjoy a little outdoor workout. Or, you can always stop by mine and come along with Nina and me!

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rockstar

I like to think that I am a rock star, on many different levels to be honest, but mostly on the “best wife ever” level. I mean, seriously! When it comes to being a wife, I get it right most of the time…Right honey? (She yells over her shoulder to her husband…he moans) Maybe I’m flattering myself?! All right, fine! I don’t always get it right. In fact just when I think I’m getting the hang of this business, and probably getting a little too cocky, I am reminded that I still have a lot of learning to do!

I’m sure, if you are a frequenter of this blog, you think that I am cooking up a storm in the kitchen every day, feeding my little family the best, home cooked, made from scratch meals that I can find from my stockpile of recipes on Pinterest (follow me) and Foodgawker. Well, you would be right! Okay…some of the time…but definitely not every day…and some weeks, not at all.

I don’t work a full time schedule all of the time and when I do, it is with great resistance.  It is too easy for me to lose my groove and become the “get home from work and sit on my butt the rest of the night because I’m too tired to think let alone cook a meal” kind of wife. Not that I’m proud to admit it but it does happen and this is what happened 2 weeks ago…ALL WEEK!  It was so bad that I am even embarrassed to admit to the kinds of things I “put together” for our meals that week. I think I blocked it out of my memory.

The good news is that I was able to acknowledge my shortcomings and use it as motivation for the next week, where I cooked 3 whole meals in a row! I know, I know, starting to gain some of that rock star status back. I made homemade pizzas one night (I use this recipe for my pizza dough and one of the pizzas was topped with Ricotta cheese and Spinach and was AMAZING!), the next night we had Lasagna Soup (a favorite recipe of mine that appeared in a previous blog post), and the third night I tried a new recipe: Quinoa Corn Edamame Salad (because, let’s face it, those last 2 meals were pretty heavy). Click on the links to find the recipes I used (all courtesy of Foodgawker)!

Quinoa Edamame Corn Salad...pretty, right?

Quinoa Corn Edamame Salad…pretty, right?

This week, I’m on a mission to cook EVERY NIGHT! (And yes, I am still working a full-time schedule…begrudgingly) That’s right, I’ve got a plan and so far I’m 2 for 2. Yesterday, I marinated some chicken in Cuties 100% Tangerine juice, then threw it in the crock pot with some BBQ sauce and a little bit of chicken broth, and then walked away from it for a few hours to watch a movie. My favorite way to cook! (It was delicious, in case you’re wondering.) Tonight I have my mom’s recipe for Mexican Cheese soup cooking up on the stove (you’ll have to ask her if you want the recipe)…yum! And here’s my plan for the rest of the week:

Gringo Tacos (as we affectionately call them in my house)

Spaghetti (it doesn’t matter if it’s easy, at least I’m cooking!)

Quinoa Edamame Corn Salad (because it was soooo good the first time)

And

Baked Fried Chicken (old school style from my Betty Crocker Cookbook)

Bam! That looks like 6 dinners in a row! Look out folks, this quasi homemaker is working on her rock star status! What are you eating for dinner this week?

I’m not one for New Year’s Resolutions and I find myself nauseated by the onslaught of what seem to be overly dramatic New Year’s related posts as I scroll through my Facebook newsfeed. I don’t always enjoy all the “Best of 2012” articles or “My Year in Review” summaries, but maybe I’m just grumpy. However, on this first day of another year ahead, I can’t help but sit and reflect on where I am in my life, the things accomplished, and the dreams for the future. I can’t say that I know what to expect in this coming year but I do know that I am hopeful, optimistic, and excited about where my adventures are headed. This past year hasn’t been all sunshine and rainbows, things didn’t always turn out as I had hoped, I have had some real lows and a few painful disappointments, but in the words of my father-in-law, “It’s life.” You get the good with the bad, it’s a package deal, and I don’t expect anything less in this coming year.

One thing I know for sure is that I am blessed. And I actually mean it. I’m not trying to be cliché or trite or grossly sentimental. I am a very lucky girl! I have so many things to be thankful for and so many things to rejoice about. My life is not perfect, by any stretch of the imagination, but perfectly imperfect in so many ways and I am grateful. I do not wish to recap my whole year with you today nor do I want to give you a list of my accomplishments. I’m also not all that interested in sharing with you a bunch of resolutions I intend to keep in the new year. Instead, I want to share with you a few moments from the past few weeks that I am looking back on with a grateful heart…

Hard at work

Hard at work!

I spent an entire day in the kitchen, baking Christmas cookies with my mom. I love Christmastime, always have, always will, and nothing else marks the start of Christmas for me like holiday baking. My mom and I have always made Christmas goodies together, as far back as I can remember, and it’s one of my favorite traditions. We don’t always make the same recipes, it’s not always just the two of us, and sometimes scheduling can seem daunting but we always seem to work it out. This year especially, I cherished the quiet calm of just mom and me, baking dozens of cookies, trying to remember old recipes and looking up new ones (sampling as we went along), chatting about all the happenings of our lives, and sharing a moment in time together…then, watching my dad gobble up some of our bounty when he made it home from work!

Sweet Ashlyn Grace

Sweet Ashlyn Grace

I got to crawl around the floor, play in the snow, and chase my beautiful niece, Ashlyn, around my parents’ living room on Christmas day and for two days after! I don’t get to spend as much time with this sweet girl as I would like to and sometimes I get sad to think she doesn’t know her Auntie as well as she should. But for a few days, during my favorite time of year, we played together. She laughed and squealed and giggled, ran around in circles, had moments of total seriousness, played catch with my sweet puppy Nina, let me hug and kiss her, and I was in heaven.  She loved the little wagon we got her for Christmas and I watched her push it around with delight… it doesn’t get much cooler than that!

For New Year’s Eve this year, I spent the day doing some of my favorite things. I went up to Runyon Canyon with Eddie and Nina in the morning for some fresh air, exercise, and quality puppy time. Then, Eddie and I went to the movies and watched “This is 40” which made me literally laugh out loud (embarrassingly) more times than I can count. And instead of going out to some club or party for NYE festivities, we went to my in-laws’ house where we ate a home-cooked Mexican feast and then enjoyed our food coma, snuggled up by the fireplace. We “camped” with our nephews, sang at the top of our lungs, played the “quiet game” and “Simon says”, and laughed until we cried. At midnight, we shared big hugs and sent all the kids running to wish their parents a Happy New Year! Best. New Years. Ever!

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These are the things I am remembering today, with a smile and a heart full or joy, and these are the things that will help me get through some of the harder moments. Like I said, I am a VERY lucky girl.

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It’s National Cookie Day! No, I’m serious, it’s a real thing…I’m not just making it up. I Googled it! I don’t think it is the kind of holiday that people get to stay home from work in order to observe (although it should be) but it’s still pretty cool. I mean, I think the cookie deserves it, don’t you? So, in honor of National Cookie Day, I am going to talk about………drum roll………COOKIES! Whoo-ray!!!

I may have mentioned it once or twice (slight understatement…), but just to remind you, my faithful readers, I work a few odd jobs here and there to supplement my acting career. Well, one of the companies I work for is Califia Farms, a beverage company that makes Cuties Juice (yes, that’s juices and smoothies made with Cuties Tangerines) and Almondmilk, among other things. Check out their websites! I mostly do in-store demos (otherwise known as free samples) and special events, but recently I have been asked about incorporating the products in some of my recipes. This is what happens when your boss is also your friend…they invade your whole LIFE! (Just kidding, Sam. Love you!)

Anyway, a few weeks ago I went on a mission to find a cookie recipe that would use our Almondmilk and/or Cuties Juice. Once I found a few recipes that sounded yummy, I went shopping (for ingredients, not clothes or shoes) and then set to work baking. I made 3 recipes, which amounted to what felt like hundreds of cookies, over the course of about a week. Of course I HAD to sample the cookies to make sure they tasted good, but in order to save me from myself, I sent most of the cookies away! Left in my kitchen, I would have eaten them ALL, which wouldn’t have been good for anyone.

Although all 3 recipes were, honestly, delicious, there was one clear winner. The Chocolate Oatmeal Chews. Their chocolaty decadence was made even more perfect when I had the brilliant idea (if I do say so myself) of topping them off with a tangerine infused buttercream frosting. Voila! A yummy cookie recipe that incorporates both our Almondmilk and Cuties 100% Tangerine Juice. Success! I found the recipe in a Betty Crocker cookie book that I checked out of the library (because who needs to buy cookbooks anymore!) but I substituted the Almondmilk for regular milk and I just kind of made up the recipe for the tangerine buttercream. I also added chocolate chips, which wasn’t in the original recipe but it just felt right!

Before frosting...I forgot to get a picture of the final product.

Before frosting…I forgot to get a picture of the final product.

So to celebrate National Cookie Day, be adventurous and make some cookies to share with your friends or just keep to yourself, I won’t judge. At the very least buy a cookie somewhere and EAT IT! It’s a national holiday for cryin’ out loud!

 

Chocolaty Tangerine Oatmeal Cali Chews (Unofficial name)

*Adapted from Betty Crocker’s Cookie Book

Makes about 4 dozen cookies

1 1/2 cups sugar

1 cup butter, softened

1/4 cup Califia Farms Creamy Almondmilk

1 egg

2 2/3 cups quick-cooking oats

1 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 cup Hershey’s cocoa powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 package of semi-sweet chocolate morsels

Tangerine Buttercream Frosting

 

Preheat oven to 350. Mix sugar, butter, Almondmilk, and egg in a large bowl until smooth. Stir in the rest of the ingredients.

Drop dough in tablespoon sized mounds onto cookie sheet about 2 inches apart. Bake 10 to 15 minutes, until centers are slightly firm to the touch. Allow to cool 1 to 2 minutes before transferring to a wire cooling rack. Once the cookies are completely cooled, frost them with the Tangerine Buttercream.

Tangerine Buttercream

½  cup butter (softened)

2 cups powdered sugar

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

1 tablespoon Califia Farms Creamy Almondmilk

1 tablespoon Cuties 100% Tangerine Juice

 

Blend all ingredients until smooth. You may need to adjust ingredients to taste and consistency.

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This is my “I’m back” pose…this gem was snapped during our trip to Vegas

I bet you thought I had forgotten about this thing, didn’t ya’? Well, no, not exactly…I just took a… well…let’s call it an unofficial hiatus, yes? I offer no real excuses for my absence, at least not any that I think you would buy, so instead of going on and on about why I am perfectly justified in my actions (in some lame attempt to make myself feel better about the whole thing), I will simply say that I wasn’t making it a priority. Understandable or not, I was putting other things in my life ahead of keeping up with my blog and my followers (haha! Followers! Hi family! ). If you read my post about procrastination, this should have come as no surprise! Nonetheless, I am back and I am going to try my best to be better at this whole thing, if for no other reason than to prove to myself that I can do it! Let’s move on, shall we?

I have done a lot over the last three months, but unfortunately none of those things resulted in me making millions or becoming a household name; so, no, I will not be changing the title of my blog anytime soon. I did however, have a lot of fun and create a lot of art with the beautiful people I have been lucky enough to find in my company. I am truly blessed in so many ways and, as this year winds down into a period of time that is excruciatingly slow in our business, I must constantly remind myself of the many wonderful things I DID get accomplished this year.

Unfortunately, I cannot include on that list all of the summer projects I laid out for myself to get done. I had high hopes but, alas, in true Jean fashion, I still have a pile of unfinished projects I need to get to “when I have the time”. Let’s take a look at that original list…

My Summer Projects:

1)      My Eddie & Jean Scrapbook – I started this scrapbook while Eddie and I were dating, hoping to chronicle our time of courtship. I think after almost 4 years of marriage it is time to finish!

Yea…didn’t happen…but I have 6 more pages done that I did at the beginning of summer and I have set to work on it again. Let’s get it done before 2013!

2)      Get prints of our Wedding Photos – This kind of goes along with the first project. I think it is finally time to get some prints of our wedding photos and fill those wedding picture frames that have been lying empty in the closet all this time.

Mission accomplished! Woo hoo for me!

One of several frames now hanging beautifully in my apartment

3)      Make Bedroom Curtains-To be fair, this is a new project for my new apartment, but if I don’t include it on this list I will end up with old sheets hanging on my windows until it’s time to move again! This includes little curtains for the kitchen hutch we turned into bedroom furniture.

Although I did get the curtains done (finally!), it was not without a lot of effort and struggle. I was most shocked at the price of fabric! Will I make my own curtains again? Probably not…just go buy the darn things!

A swatch of the fabric I finally found

4)      Chair Cushions-We bought a second-hand dining room table and chairs when we moved into our first apartment and I remember thinking back then that I should make some chair cushions to cover the scratches and ugly marks on the seats. Clearly this never happened, but now I am using the chairs, without the table, in various places throughout the new place. They need cushions!

My chairs do have cushions now but I did not make them. When you can buy them for $5 at IKEA, why bother making them yourself (see curtain note).

5)      Guitar Pick Earrings-I know this sounds totally random, but I have had a box of guitar picks for many years now (I am afraid to do the math to find out exactly how long) and I have never put them to use. I hardly play the guitar and when I do I don’t use a pick. At one point I tried to give them away! I saw someone a while back with these really cute earrings made out of guitar picks and I thought, “I can totally do that!” And I will.

COMPLETELY forgot about these…anyone want some for Christmas?!

6)      Jar Candles for Outside-I’ve been saving glass jars for months now without a specific project in mind but with the thought that someday I would be really glad I saved all of them! I almost threw them all out with the move but something told me to hold onto them. Now, I’m glad I did because I saw a project online for making outdoor candles using glass jars! Plus, we have a mosquito problem in our new backyard and we plan on spending a lot of time grilling and chilling back there this summer. So, I plan to make them citronella candle jars!

This absolutely happened, and were beautiful, but only slightly helped with the mosquito problem. I was still eaten alive for most of the summer.

7)      T-Shirt Quilt-Eddie has a GAZILLION t-shirts and some of those t-shirts he doesn’t even wear anymore; he just saves them for sentimental value! I have a few also, but the question has always been, “What do we do with all these t-shirts?!” Then I saw this project for a quilt made with old t-shirts and I got excited. Finally, a fun and useful way to hold onto all these memories. But in order to get rid of the garbage bag full of t-shirts under my bed, I have to START and COMPLETE this cool project.

Haven’t even taken the bag out from under the bed ONE TIME!

 

So I’m 4 for 7. Not bad, but I can do better. I’d like to think that I will be able to check a couple more off my list before the end of the year but we can pretty much count on that NOT happening. But as long as I still have the list, I know what needs to get done, right?

I’m glad to be back and I am looking forward to sharing with you more crazy stories and some of my NEW favorite recipes. Although I was gone, I wasn’t dead. I have been cooking up all kinds of fun new recipes, seeing lots of great places, and baking up a storm. Stay tuned…

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So, I’ve become a little bit of an urban gardener this summer. Thanks to the creative genius of my father and the financial inspiration of both him and my mother, I now have a large self-watering planter, 4 hanging baskets, two shelves on the wall for some pots and containers, and the beginnings of my very first vegetable garden. You see, you have to be real careful about the ideas you mention to a man like my dad and you better be sure you are serious about it because he WILL make it happen. Not only did he take my little dream of having a backyard garden and make it come to life, he did it in a matter of a couple of weekends! Bam! Instant responsibility!

Doesn’t it look pretty?!

Needless to say, I’m feeling a lot of pressure to keep these plants alive and to produce some amazing fresh veggies! I’m out there every day watering, pruning, spraying, cutting, killing bugs, crying…I literally have no idea what I am doing but I am learning as I go. The great thing about this whole process is that I can find the answers to ALL of my gardening questions right here on the internet.  I think I spend just as much time surfing the internet for answers to my garden woes as I do actually IN my garden. What is eating my basil leaves? What is the best way to get rid of slugs? Why is my zucchini plant flowering so much but there aren’t any zucchini growing? Are leaf miners going to destroy any hope of a tomato crop? Oh crap! Something just ate all of my radish tops, what’s going on?!

It’s a lot of work, but I really am having a lot of fun. There is something really satisfying about watching something come to life right in front of you and something equally heartbreaking about seeing it fail. Like my little seedlings I started a couple of weeks ago, just some lettuce and fresh herbs I wanted to get started. My dad bought me a whole seed starting system from Burpee and my little seeds did so well! They sprouted almost immediately and I was so excited! But then I got nervous that they needed to get more sunlight in order to really thrive, so I transferred the kit outside with the rest of my garden. Yeah, well, not my best idea. When I went out this morning to water before I went to work, I peeked inside the box to find them all DEAD! Wilted and sad from the hot sun. That, my friends, is what we call a learning curve.

But I am celebrating little victories along the way! I had a really great spurt of cilantro early on which smelled amazing and we were able to use it in a few batches of salsa and guacamole. My mint WAS growing out of control at one point and I thought I would never find enough ways to use it all. Plus, my basil is awesome and still thriving! Yay! I made THE most amazing homemade pesto this week with all of my basil. Oh my gosh! Wait, I have to tell you about it really quick because that was the original inspiration for this post (I am CLEARLY easily distracted)!

I had a good bunch of basil that I had to cut from the plant in order to continue to encourage new growth (that’s right, I learned that on the internet!) I didn’t want it to go to waste, so pesto was the perfect solution. I learned how to do pesto from my rock star, foodie friend Samantha but there is no real recipe involved. She sounded a bit like this, “You use a whole lot of basil, pine nuts, plenty of garlic, a good amount of olive oil, and you can never have too much parmesan cheese.” Then, just keep tasting it and adding things until it is perfect. This time, however, I didn’t use my food processor. I hand-chopped! I found this recipe online called “How to Make Pesto Like an Italian Grandmother” which said it would never be thrown in a machine. So I tried it, adding a little bit of each ingredient as I went. The result was truly amazing! It took a little extra time and a really good, sharp knife but even Eddie agreed that it was my best pesto EVER! Another victory for the urban gardener!

This whole process made my kitchen smell AMAZING!

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