vacay recap: sonoma county!

The last few days of our trip out West were spent winery hopping with Lisa, my awesome sister-in-law. We visited 4 wineries throughout the weekend, and ended up shipping an entire case back to our sweet little east coast abode. Truth be told, the wines we tasted were probably some of the best I’ve had, and not to mention the absolutely gorgeous wineries all along the area. Talk about breath-taking! Here are a few shots of our weekend; enjoy!

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Lisa enjoying her wine – and the view – at Bella!

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Ridge Winery – our first stop!

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barrel room at Ridge – stop #3 on their wine tasting tour!

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Preston Winery

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crisp white wine to sip on at Preston Winery – we sat right outside their herb garden!

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wall art at the Dry Creek General Store

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gorgeous, locally crafted stoneware for sale at the Dry Creek General Store {I wanted to take all of it home!}

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crate of wine on display at Bella

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food bites at Bella are handed out before entering the tasting room

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the entrance to Bella’s tasting room is located underneath the hillside of their winery!

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down the hallway to Bella’s tasting counter

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starting our Sunday off with some amazing Zinfandel

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Let’s Discuss: Have you ever been out to Sonoma County? What are your favorite wineries? 

vacay recap: our trip to tahoe!

As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, the hubs and I were extremely lucky and blessed to spend a long week on the West Coast – Tahoe City, to be exact! This trip has been in the books since November 2013, and to say we were excited for this adventure is an understatement! The entire time was wonderful – from short hikes to long “high sierra” adventures, happy hours in the hot tub, beachin’, and everything in between, it was more than we could ever have imagined! I wanted to share some of our favorite memories, views, and of course FOOD here with you all, so sit back and enjoy!

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part of our “high sierra” expedition into Desolation Wilderness – a 14 mile adventure!

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boats loved to park in Secret Cove and take in the stunning views

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our first morning waking up by the lake, at sunrise no less – this was the view from our loft!

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Lisa and I

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Ross and I at Vikingsholm – 4th of July celebratory shirt and all!

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Ross and Lisa

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Secret Cove – part of my and Lisa’s “sister in law” day…certainly one of the most beautiful places on the trip!

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Ross is ready to rock and roll

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estate at Vikingsholm

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views past Sand Harbor

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views past Sand Harbor

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Ross playing bartender at the beach

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some leisure reading at Sand Harbor

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exploring the pier down past the Y after dinner one night

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Hula Pie!…dessert was well deserved after our 14 mile adventure

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hot tub, wine, and sunset at the chalet {standard evening fare}

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Tahoe Mountain Brewing Co! We spent a fair amount of time there one afternoon, and sampled fantastic beers!

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brother & sister

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some Ridge wine at dinner

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wings for lunch at the Brewery!

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view from Desolation

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rock hopping!

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the smallest lighthouse I’ve ever seen

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one of the many mountain lakes we encountered on our “high sierra” expedition

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mid-hike pitstop

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gnome tree! I could seriously stand in there and not touch the “ceiling”

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an afternoon spent cocktail-hopping around town

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beer sampler at Tahoe Mountain Brewing Co!

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there was still snow!…granted, our elevation was about 8,000 feet…

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….sometimes, you just need a marg

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greek pizza at Front Street

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morning coffee at the chalet

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we made a “california cooler” in the lake on sunday-funday!

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…so a bear broke in the day before Ross’s parents arrived. NO LIE! came in through the bedroom window, walked around and tried to exit via the back door, but all he did was create a lot of dust and debris to clean up!…an interesting start to vacation, to say the least.

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Ross showing off his uncorking skills at Spoon {out to dinner night!}

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explorers

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Sugar Pine State Park – we spent a lot of time there!

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Let’s Discuss: coming soon, I’ll show you our jaunt into Sonoma County! 

thirsty thursday: the summer shandy

Standing beside the hubs one evening, the grill a-blazing, I couldn’t help but feel the need for something sweet and refreshing to quench our thirst and cool us down. With it being a weeknight {sometimes you need a fun drink, am I right?!}, neither of us had the desire to spend 15 minutes whipping up a festive cocktail. There was no chilled wine in the refrigerator, and I didn’t want to feel weighed down with a heavy beer. Sometimes, you know what you want, but just can’t put your finger on it, no?

And then I remembered watching Giada on my beloved Food Network a long time ago. She was hosting a BBQ for friends, and was preparing a “shandy”. Nothing more than chilled, crisp beer and sweet lemonade, I knew that this would be the perfect item to take the heat down a notch.

A quick survey of our refrigerator provided us with everything needed.

Lemonade – check.

Beer – check.

Bubbly – check.

I quickly stowed some pint glasses in the freezer and the hubs set to work. No sooner than he had popped open two cold ones and measured out the lemonade, the drinks were ready!

…it’s not always about how fancy you can get with your beverages! For me, it’s about the experience of whipping up something fun and tasty with my husband to perfectly suit our meal and mood. And that night, when a summer shandy was needed, it was absolute perfection. Trust me when I say this is a MUST for anytime you’re grilling out!

~~~

Summer Shandy {adapted from Spoon Fork Bacon}

{serves 1}

Ingredients:

1/2 cup good lemonade, nice and cold {preferably homemade, but if you’re in a pinch, I love to use Simply Lemonade}

sparkling water, for serving

lemon wedges, optional

1 {12 ounce} bottle of chilled Hefeweizen, or other unfiltered wheat beer {I think an IPA would be a great twist on this!}

To Prepare:

Place lemon juice and sugar into a pitcher and stir. Add in waters and continue to stir until sugar dissolves.

Pour lemonade into the bottom of a chilled pint glass. If needed, add in a few ice cubes.

Pour beer atop lemonade. Top  with a generous splash of sparkling water, and garnish with a wedge of lemon. Serve.

Craft cocktail-style shandy

photo c/o the couch sessions

Let’s Discuss: How do you feel about mixing beer with other flavors? Are you team “pure beer” or team “boozed up beer”?

colorful corn & bean salad

I’m on a veggie kick lately, y’all.

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Summer speaks to me of warm summer nights, porch sitting, fresh produce, and {if I’m being honest} minimal time spent hovering over a hot oven. There’s nothing more unfortunate than spending time in said space when you could be lounging on your porch, dining al fresco, with an easy dinner based off little or no cooking. This is where this salad comes into play.

I’m fortunate in the sense that I have several friends who actually have the time to spend crafting successful gardens, and I am the frequent benefactor of the fruits of their labors. Granted, I dabble in it – albeit slightly with tomatoes/herbs/lettuces, which is better than nothing – but I do not have the knowledge or time to give it the love it needs. Summer after summer, I find myself constantly coming up with new and inventive ways to jazz up the produce I’m blessed to accept.

I’ve played with preserving and jarring pickles, canning my own tomato sauce, and preserving fruits in the form of delicious jams and jellies. But, it’s so hard to not want to eat up each and every bit of produce as soon as we possibly can. So when a bunch of fresh corn, peppers, and jalepenos showed up on my door step, this salad was born.

I’m not even sure if it’s fair to call this a true “recipe” even. I’ve mentioned before that a lot of my summer cooking is spent on a wing and a prayer, and this was one of those. As I was measuring and stirring, I had the hubs write it down for me so I could share it here with y’all. As as I am constantly mentioning, feel free to play around with this! So far, we’ve served it on top of salads, inside of quesadillas, and even just set out as a salsa for dipping in my fresh chips. I think it would make a wonderful topping for fresh cod, or stirred into sauteed veggies. I wouldn’t be surprised if I spooned it on top of a pizza someday…

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Colorful Corn & Bean Salad {original recipe, serves 6-8}

Ingredients:

4 ears fresh corn {hulled of its skin} and trimmed off so only the kernels remain

1 can kidney beans, rinsed and drained

1 can garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained

1 can diced tomatoes, drained

1 green bell pepper, diced

up to 1 whole jalepeño, seeds removed {if desired} and finely grated

1 tbsp. freshly squeezed lime juice

1 tsp. extra virgin olive oil

2 tsp. cumin

1 tsp. oregano

1 tsp chili powder

1/2 to 1 tsp. cayenne pepper

salt and pepper, to taste

To Prepare:

Add fresh corn into the bottom of a large, wide-mouthed mixing bowl {I like to use my largest stainless steel one). Add in both beans, the tomatoes, and the green peppers. Stir to combine.

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Grate in the fresh jalepeño, and mix well. Drizzle in the olive oil and lime juice, stirring to combine. Set aside for 5 minutes and allow the flavors to merry while we assemble the spice mixture.

Combine all seasonings in a small bowl, making sure to evenly distribute them {we don’t want any clumps of cumin, or hot spots of cayenne}.

Sprinkle evenly over the corn/tomato/bean mixture, and stir well. Store in an airtight container, or several smaller Mason jars {for easy transport and serving}. Salad will keep well in the fridge for several days.

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buttermilk biscuits

The perfect biscuit, in my oh-so-humble opinion, should be perfectly flaky yet still fluffy, light, and moist with no heaviness.

Seems like a pretty tall order, eh?

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I’ve always been a fan of the perfect biscuit – a match made in heaven for the classic breakfast sandwich, a reliable vehicle for butter and jam, or kept simple and drizzled with just a touch of honey. But it’s been a tried and true search, dears. Copious amounts of research and many trial-and-error batches have resulted in my putting a halt on this quest for some time now. You see, I’m picky when it comes to this particular bread – I’ve never been fond of using lard in cooking, or shortening, and have found that it’s easy to over {or under} estimate the amount of butter needed to create those perfect layers.

When we had company a few weeks back, I decided to give this infamous recipe, this culinary enemy of mine, another go. Rather than re-exploring previous recipes, I opted for a fresh start. That being said, and having spoken with my previous experiences of different bases, I settled on exploring the buttermilk route. I knew that its creamy texture and tangy bite would be a good base for my dough, but didn’t want to travel down the {errenous} method of baking sans recipe. When I stumbled upon this one, I knew I had found a winner. A perfect balance of tangy buttermilk and rich butter {neither too much nor too little of each!} ensured me that I would come up with the perfect biscuit.

Do try and make these yourselves! Once set in the oven and baking, the aroma will tantalize you terribly. I promise, these won’t last more than a day or so.

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Flaky Buttermilk Biscuits

{recipe adapted from Cooking Light}

Ingredients:

2 cups all-purpose flour*

2-1/2 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. kosher salt

5 tablespoons chilled butter, cut into small pieces

3/4 C. low-fat or fat-free buttermilk {because it’s summer, hot and humid, I probably used close to 1 C. total in this recipe}

3 Tbsp. honey

Preparation:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine the flour, baking powder, and salt into a large bowl.

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Cut in the butter with a pasty blender or 2 knives until the mixture resembles coarse meal {you don’t want to overmix! – this will result in a tough biscuit}. Chill for 10 minutes.

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Combine buttermilk and honey, stirring with a whisk until well blended. Add buttermilk mixtures to flour mixture; stir just until moist.

Turn dough onto a lightly floured surface, and knead lightly 4 times. Roll dough into a {1/2 inch thick} 9×5 rectangle; dust top of dough with flour. Fold dough crosswise into thirds {as if folding a piece of paper to fit into an envelope}. Re-roll dough into a {1/2 inch thick} 9 x 4 rectangle; dust top of dough with flour. Again, fold dough into thirds, gently roll or pat into a generous 1″ thickness. Cut dough with a biscuit cutter to your desired size. I got 9 out of this size and amount. 

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Place dough rounds about 1 inch apart on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake at 400 degrees for 12 minutes, or until golden. Remove from pan; cool 2 minutes on a wire rack.

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Serve with your desired toppings and spreads.

Biscuits will keep, covered at room temperature, for about 2 days. Any longer than that, I would transfer into the refrigerator. 

banana bites

With the excessive heat we’ve been experiencing lately, I’ve been finding my produce become riper almost overnight, especially my bananas. I’ve tried every trick in the book to keep them from turning, as well as freezing what seems like tons and tons for future breads, but a girl can only fit so many in her ancient side-by-side refrigerator. And since I practically refuse to throw food away, I’ve been sitting around scratching my head trying to think of ideas.

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Then one night, while going through vacation photos from last summer, I stumbled upon a spread I had laid out during our beach trip to the Outer Banks – my banana bites! Duh, Alicia.

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It was truly one of those moments where I wanted to slap myself on the forehand, comedy-style, because I was shocked that I had forgotten about them. Whether it was the above-mentioned beach trip, day hikes, or camping trips, these were a summer staple for us. So quick and so easy to throw together, and minimal time in the oven makes them a perfect go-to snack.

The highlight of these added beauties is that there is NO.ADDED.SUGAR.

That’s right, you heard me. Because why take away from something as simple and lovely as a banana, perfectly ripe and sweet? The combination I’ve outlined below throws in a few extra “goodies”, if you will, but regardless, they only complement the flavor of the fruit.

Whether you toss these in your lunch for a breakfast on the go, as a mid-afternoon snack, or for a late-night treat {the addition of chocolate chips give you that fix without the guilt!}, these truly hit the spot. Sometimes, I’ll even throw them in the freezer, for when the days are especially hot and I just need that extra-cold treat!

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Banana Bites {recipe adapted from The Simple Veganista}

makes about 15-18 bites

Ingredients:

4 very ripe bananas, mashed but still chunky

2 cup oats, rolled or quick

1/2 to 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips* {I used Ghiradelli}

1/2 to 3/4 cup peanut butter*

1 tsp. cinnamon

1 generous tsp. vanilla extract

pinch salt

Optional Add-Ins

nuts of choice {I would suggest walnuts or cashews in here}

dried fruits {I would think a tropical version, using dried mangoes and coconut butter, would be divine!}

shredded coconut

peanut butter chips

almond extract {if you prefer that flavor over vanilla}

coconut butter, almond butter, etc. {to sub for the peanut butter, should you choose}

To Prepare:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a medium-sized bowl, mash bananas until incorporated {like I mentioned above, chunks are good here!}. Add in oats, cinnamon, salt, and vanilla. Stir to combine. Gently fold in the peanut butter.

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Fold in the chocolate chips {and any other additional add-ins} until mixed in well.

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Lightly spray the parchment paper with cooking spray, to help with any residual sticking. Using a tablespoon, scoop mixture and place on cookie sheet. I left mine slightly rounded, but you can flatten slightly with the back of your spoon.

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Baking in the oven for 15-20 minutes, until they appear set and the edges have collected themselves. Remove from oven, and let cool on a wire rack before storing.

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Store leftovers loosely covered and eat within a few days. I would recommend transferring to the refrigerator if longer than that, or if you live in a hot/humid climate.

Notes: The riper the banana, the sweeter the final product. Coloring may vary slightly, due to the ripeness of the banana, the type of oat used {rolled vs. quick} and whether or not you mix in a nut butter or chocolate chips. 

*Depending on how chocolatey or peanut-buttery you like your bites, feel free to use additional, or less, of the amount listed. This particular recipe is easy to accommodate any palette! 

thirsty thursday: homemade bloody mary mix

If mimosas are for Saturday mornings, I’m going to go out on a limb and call Bloody Mary’s the drink for Sunday.

I don’t know about y’all, but I have a special place in my heart for the old fashioned Bloody Mary. Perhaps it’s due, largely in part, to my love of all things veggie-based, but I just cannot get enough of this delicious cocktail.

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Granted, there are few places that do ‘em right. You’ve got to be careful of those “cocktails in a bottle” concoctions. Rather than brimming with garden-fresh goodness, they’re typically loaded up with sodium and artificial flavors. This doesn’t exactly spell out a tasty treat; we want to taste each piece of vegetable for what it truly is! Chock full of vitamins and minerals, loaded up with antioxidants…it’s safe to say {occasionally, at least in my book} that the Bloody Mary, when prepared properly, is going to do your body and mind good. Heck, even a splash or two of vodka isn’t going to hurt ya!

I’ve been playing around with my juicer quite a bit as of late, and this particular blend I’m sharing today was sent to me by a dear gal pal. When I was first skimming over the ingredients, or perhaps it was at a dinner date not too long ago, I thought that this was the most perfect recipe for a homemade Bloody Mary mix! A simple whirl down the juicer, and seconds later, you have Mason jars brimming with Sunday morning cocktail potential. And if you’re feeling particularly motivated, whip this up the evening before and you’ll have perfectly portioned glasses!

With the Farmer’s Market brimming with fresh produce, this is one drink that won’t set you back either! Simply buy only what you need, and you’ll be all set for a casual and leisurely Sunday morning. And for the record…this is a beverage best enjoyed with copious amounts of porch sitting, a fried egg on toast, and good company. Enjoy!

~~~

Homemade Bloody Mary Mix 

serves 2, can easily be multiplied

Ingredients:

3 whole tomatoes {I like to use Roma’s, or heirlooms if I have them on hand}

1/3 jalepeño*, seeds removed if less heat is desired

1/4 white onion, with the outer skin removed

2-4 carrots

3 stalks of celery**

1 lemon, peeled

Vodka of choice {to add in once the juice has been prepared. I like to go with 1.5 ounces per Bloody Mary, but you can use however much or little you desire}

Garnishes:

Old Bay seasoning, to rim the glass

whole stalks of celery {for stirring}

pickled veggies {I love asparagus stalks}

olives

lemon and lime wedges

To Prepare:

Thoroughly wash and dry all produce going into the drink. Since we’re processing each piece in its whole, we want to make sure all impurities have been removed.

Get the vegetables ready – cut the tomatoes into quarters, peel the onion skin off, remove the rind from the lemon, and discard the seeds of the jalepeno {or leave them in if you like it hot!}.

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Assemble your container that the juice will enter once processed. I prefer to use a wide-mouth Mason jar, because that way I can give it all a good shake once complete!

Carefully place all vegetables through the mouth of your juicer, being careful not to splatter. I like to put a sheet of wax paper underneath mine, as it makes clean up a lot easier.

Once all has processed, screw the lid on your jar and give it a good shake! From here, build your perfect Bloody Mary.

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Cheers!

 

*be very careful when handling the jalepeno! i like to wear plastic gloves, because the heat from the skin itself can irritate yours. If not wearing gloves, be sure to wash hands thoroughly – rubbing them against the sides of your stainless steel sink bowl is a great way to neutralize the heat. 

**save the leafy greens of the celery! not only are they a beautiful garnish, but add a wonderful flavor to soups, salads, etc.