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Bayou Bend Gardens: Who Would Have Known Houston Has Its Own Versaille!

Come on … it’s beautiful these days around Houston and this gem of a find should make it a no-brainer to want to visit, with or without the kids! Take a look at what I now call my Chateau Versaille of Houston and get yourself there soon 🙂

A Color Pop Life

Have you ever gone to a place, on a sporadic moment, because the something about the way the sun shined that day just screamed, “Be adventurous and do something different today?”  And, suppose that moment did happen for you – when you tried that something new, did you ever find yourself so happy you followed that inner voice.  And, the place you embarked upon was just so awesome you realized you could have stayed so much longer than you did?  Well, you – my friend – and I have something in common because this is exactly what happened to me when venturing to the Bayou Bend Gardens in Houston, Texas a few weeks ago!

Initially, I was in a solemn mood on a recent March day … a sweet soul that I would like to remember as a friend I had just heard passed away unexpectedly, naturally casting a…

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A Sweet Favor: The Cacti Cone

This is too cute that it makes me want to run out now and make it 🙂

A Color Pop Life

Party favors have a history dating back to the Victorian age, whereby in England the wealthiest of brides offered small fabric bags that nestled sugar cubes and confections.  Funny, even then, speaking to a gal’s sweet tooth weakness became a friend’s way to express appreciation thru indulgence!  Nevertheless, the intention behind the gesture was founded on the way to show appreciation for guests joining in the fun factor of the celebration.

Fast forward and party favors are still one of the most fun aspects of planning a party … at least I personally feel that way.  I think I got this trait from my Aunt, a powerful influence in my life.  I always found her giving and the brightest smiles I always saw beam from her face was when she was giving to others.  I vividly remember the parties she planned for my cousin and I had the honor of…

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A Few Days in the Big Apple: A Family Getaway in NYC!

Hey there TBSH friends! Sorry you haven’t heard from me in a couple of weeks… I’m just getting back and settling in from a 10 day trip! I thought I would be able to post on our blog while on vacation, but that is easier said than done! We were non-stop, and at the end of the late days I was just ready to hit the hay!

My husband and I, along with our kiddos, were in NYC for 4 days before heading off to Rhode Island to meet our Boston family for a week! Miss you already Boston gang!!

Have you been to New York City? We’ve been twice with our kids in the last year so I thought I’d share with you some of the things we did (this year & last) incase it’s on your “to-do” list 🙂 By no means am I an expert on New York City! Just a mom that has been there twice in the last year with her 7 and 10 year old kids…

To Be Simply Happy: NYC

While 4 days is hardly enough to see all of The Big Apple, and it’s boroughs, if you are willing to go, go, go all day you can see & do a lot in that amount of time!

Last year (2015) when we went we stayed 4 days in the Grand Hyatt by Grand Central Terminal. While all of NYC is busy, it seemed extra busy there. I liked it, but on this trip (2016) I wanted something a little less “hectic” and a place where we could settle in better at the end of our busy days and not be stepping over suitcases! So this time, we rented an apartment in the Meatpacking District near Chelsea Market. I found the apartment on VRBO, as I have done in the past for many of our vacations and I have never been disappointed. After browsing the available properties for our dates and reading the reviews, we rented a 2br apartment on W 14th Street. A bedroom for my husband and I, and a bedroom for the kids! It was a great location with a subway station less than a block away. Ideal for getting around the city on mass transit!

So here goes! The places we went and things we saw in NYC with kids in tow… In no particular order 😉

The High Line Park: The High Line is a 1.45-mile-long New York City linear park built in Manhattan’s West Side on an elevated section of a disused New York Central Railroad spur called the West Side Line. It is 30 feet above street level with Hudson River and city views. It spans from the Meatpacking District to Greenwich. We visited the High Line both times we have been to Manhattan with the kids. It’s a nice stroll with art installations, vendors, different flora & fauna, and sitting areas. There is a covered area where you can purchase various snacks, cold drinks, and coffee. I highly recommend visiting La Newyorkina. The popsicle vendor with the yellow umbrella. I wish I had gotten a picture of the stand, but it is out on the uncovered walking path area. They sell all natural popsicles called “paletas” like, mango, coconut, blueberry, strawberry, watermelon and my favorite, cucumber lime! So good! There are a few other interesting seasonal flavors to choose from too.

To Be Simply Happy: NYC

 

To Be Simply Happy: NYC

To Be Simply Happy: NYC

I highly recommend the High Line for a nice diversion with the kids!

Chelsea Market: Our apartment was an easy 5 minute walk from Chelsea Market which was awesome if we didn’t feel like venturing out too far for a snack or drink. Chelsea Market is an indoor food hall offering a variety of restaurants & cuisines, shopping concourse, office building and television facility (with the likes of Food Network, Oxygen Network, and MLB.com) located in the Chelsea neighborhood. The complex fills and entire city block bounded by 9th and 10th avenues and 15th and 16th streets. Since it was so close to our apartment, we went there upon our arrival and ate Italian food at Rana. They make their pasta fresh, on-site, daily! It was so good and our waiter James was super nice! I know that there are many, many Italian restaurants to choose from in NYC, but if you’re hungry and at Chelsea Market I highly recommend it!

Central Park: What can I say about Central Park? Just go! There’s tons to do with the kids! Too many things to list. But I will say, every major city we travel to with the kids we always search out their most famous carousel. The Central Park carousel is one to visit and ride. It was crafted in 1908 by Stein & Goldstein, and it remains one of the largest carousels in the United States!

To Be Simply Happy: NYC

Brooklyn & The Brooklyn Bridge: On our first trip out with the kids, summer 2015, we made a point to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge. It opened in 1883 and connects the boroughs of Manhattan and Brooklyn by spanning across the East River. You can walk, bike, or drive across the bridge. We chose to walk the first time because hey, you have to do it at least once! It takes 30-60 minutes to cross depending on how many times you stop for photos. I’d recommend putting aside an hour and a half to cross just for planning purposes. It really is a beauty, and the views back towards Manhattan and towards Brooklyn are fabulous! This time we elected to take the subway. We took the subway many places. It’s quite an adventure in itself!

To Be Simply Happy: NYC

Once we got to Brooklyn we were on a mission for several things. First, food!! After all, we just walked across the Brooklyn Bridge and were hungry 🙂 We decided ahead of time that we wanted to eat at Grimaldi’s Pizzeria. We heard it was great, and it was super close to where we exited the bridge. They serve coal-fired pizzas in a very small space. We waited outside in line for about 20 minutes before going in. We were very pleased. Next on our list was Jane’s Carousel in the Dumbo area of Brooklyn. A short walk from Grimaldi’s. Remember, we hit up carousels everywhere we go. Mostly for our daughter Lola, but I secretly like them too 🙂 Boy, is this one a sight! Imagine an exquisitely carved, wooden carousel created in 1922, enclosed by a modern glass structure, sitting next to the East River! Absolutely stunning! Jane’s Carousel was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975. The first carousel to receive such designation!

To Be Simply Happy: NYC

IMG_4544

Panoramic picture of Jane’s Carousel with the Brooklyn Bridge in the background!

 

Another stop in Brooklyn was mostly for my 10 year old basketball-loving son. The Barclays Center, where the NBA team the Brooklyn Nets play. Unfortunately, we did not get to go inside, but we did visit their apparel shop and buy the kids some Brooklyn Nets gear. Score!We also ventured over to Prospect Park. Prospect Park is a beautiful 585 acre park that is home to the Brooklyn Zoo, among other things. For you fans of the movie “As Good as it Gets”, one of my all time favorites, this is the area where Carol (Helen Hunt) lived with her son and mom. On our cab ride over it began to rain a bit so we didn’t get to do all the things we wanted to do there. But!! We did make a point to go to and ride the carousel located in the park’s Children’s Corner. Mission accomplished!

Times Square: Another place that needs no explanation… It’s crowded and crazy, but my kids love it! I will admit, I like to see the huge, digital billboards at night. Pretty cool. I guess everyone should go to Times Square once. At least you’ll know where the New Year’s Eve ball drops every December 31st 🙂 My kids always like to go to the huge M&M’s World store at 48th and Broadway. Per Wikipedia, at 24,000sf, it’s the city’s largest candy store. After going there twice in a year I think I’m good for a while…

Grand Central Terminal: Grand Central Terminal… What can I say? It is one of the most recognized train stations in the world, if not the most recognized! It has been featured in a multitude of films. The terminal is one of the world’s most visited tourist attractions, with over 21 million visitors a year. It resides at 42nd Street and Park Avenue in Midtown Manhattan. It covers over 48 acres and has 44 platforms, more than any other railroad station in the world. So, for the history. When the station was built in 1871, it was actually called Grand Central Depot; it was rebuilt as Grand Central Station in 1900. Two years later, 17 people were killed in a train accident, leading to yet another reconstruction which finished in 1913. The new station was renamed Grand Central Terminal. Grand Central Terminal is, well, grand! Much more so than I even imagined. It is clad in marble, limestone, and granite with gorgeous, grand chandeliers, and a celestial ceiling. Its interior has restaurants, such as the Oyster Bar, and various fast food outlets surrounding the Dining Concourse on the level below the Main Concourse, as well as delis, bakeries, newsstands, a gourmet and fresh food market, an annex of theNew York Transit Museum, and more than 40 retail stores. Among them are chain stores, including a Starbucks coffee shop, a Rite Aid pharmacy, Aveda, L’Occitane, Tumi, and an Apple Store. Other chain restaurants include a Shake Shack. So, to sum things up, you just must go see Grand Central Terminal! It truly is magnificent!

Miscellaneous things we did and places we ate….

Boat Ride: We weren’t able to fit a boat ride in on our first trip out in 2015, but we made sure we did this summer. I’m glad we did! After reading reviews on Tripadvisor, as I always do, we chose Classic Harbor Line. There are several types of boats to choose from. We chose the Yacht Manhattan. The boats are classically designed for a contemporary experience. There isn’t a bad seat anywhere, if you want to sit inside. It’s like a solarium. There are huge windows (that will open) on all sides that reach up to the ceiling. We did the Statue of Liberty and Skyline Sightseeing Tour that lasted just under 2 hours. You pass by Ellis Island, the Statue of Liberty, and Governors Island. Pass under the Brooklyn Bridge & Manhattan Bridge. All while taking in the gorgeous skyline of New York City! It was very reasonably priced and each person gets 1 complimentary beverage, including wine & beer.

To Be Simply Happy: NYC

To Be Simply Happy: NYC

To Be Simply Happy: NYC

 

Sarah Jessica Parker’s Apartment (aka..Carrie Bradshaw’s for all you Sex and the City Fans): Yes, I am a huge fan of Sex and The City. After all, I was in my late 20’s when it aired. I could totally relate. My bestie Michelle and I couldn’t wait to watch Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte, and Miranda every Sunday night while drinking some wine or Cosmos 😉 So, of course I had to go see the infamous apartment that Carrie “lived in” as a single gal. Where Mr. Big would drop her off, and where she kissed many other beaus on the stoop. So, off we went to 66 Perry Street in the charming West Village. My kids were like, “Who is Carrie Bradshaw, and why are we going there?” 🙂 In any case, we took a few pictures on the stoop (there is a chain and you can’t go all the way up) and I sat and reminisced for a few moments of all those memories of my youthful 20’s with Carrie and the girls…

To Be Simply Happy: NYC

Performance of Stomp: So, you’re in NYC and you want to take your kids to a Broadway show. You need to appeal to mom & dad and a boy & a girl. I chose Stomp. Which is now actually “off broadway”. Created in the UK in 1991, Stomp came to the US in 1994. We ventured over to the East Village’s Orpheum Theater to watch the 1 hour 45 minute show. It was a hit! We loved it! My kids loved it! Here’s a description I found on Broadway.com – “Stomp is a joyful, witty and wordless show that has been seen all over the world. An eight-member cast with energy to burn creates beautiful music and sly humor with found objects: Zippo lighters, push brooms, wooden poles, hammer handles, garbage cans, inner tubes, matchboxes—and yes, even the kitchen sink. There’s no traditional narrative; both household and industrial objects find new life as musical instruments in this unique combination of percussion, movement and visual comedy. It is a journey through sound, a celebration of the everyday and a comic interplay of characters wordlessly communicating through dance and drum.” Go see it if you get a chance!

To Be Simply Happy: NYC

Mr. Throwback: What is Mr. Throwback, you ask? It is a small store in the East Village at 428 E 9th Street that sells original 80’s and 90’s “vintage” basketball apparel as well as their own Mr. Throwback line. Remember, I have a 10 year old, sports loving son. Especially of anything basketball. I’m not quite sure how I found Mr. Throwback. I was searching for something on the Internet and ran across it. As soon as I told my son, that was it! He had to go! So we went. It’s on a quaint, tree-lined street in the East Village. Greeted by the super nice owner Mike, we perused the racks of basketball jerseys. My son was on a mission for a vintage Michael Jordan jersey and found one! Score! Pun intended…. Check them out on Instagram @ mrthrowbacknyc.

To Be Simply Happy: NYC

Le Relais de Venise: Ok, so I know we are in New York City, but one of our favorite places to eat is a restaurant straight out of Paris. Call me crazy, but my husband and I, as well as our kids, CRAVE this dinner! My husband visited the original Relais de Venise  location many times as a kid growing up in Paris. He took me there years ago on a trip to Paris when were dating. There is no menu. Gasp! It’s straight up steak & fries with the most amazing, delectable “secret” sauce you can imagine. So, when you can’t get to Paris, but you can get to NYC….Le Relais de Venise. When we went to NYC in 2015 Le Relais de Venise was our first dinner and our last dinner. This year in 2016, it was our first dinner and our last dinner. I’m not kidding. That’s how much we love this meal! Go! Order their house red wine and sit back and wait for a simple, yummy salad with walnuts in a mustard dressing, then 2 separate servings of tender steak covered in that amazing sauce, and french fries. And all for $29.99 per person! It’s heaven on earth! At least for my clan 🙂

To Be Simply Happy: NYC

Lombardi’s Pizza: America’s first pizzeria! Licensed by the city of New York in 1905! We had to go there for that reason alone! That, and the fact that they serve amazing Napoletana style coal-fired pizza. We definitely were not disappointed! Lombardi’s Pizzeria is located at 32 Spring Street in the Nolita neighborhood of Manhattan.

Numero 28 Pizza: Pizza is tops in New York City. It’s no surprise that both times we visited we ate pizza multiple times 🙂 We really love the West Village of NYC so when we decided to go spend an evening in that area we opted for a simple, delicious dinner of pizza. On Trip Advisor, Numero 28 had excellent reviews. 4.5 stars out of 5 and it was in the West Village which is where we wanted to go for the evening.

To Be Simply Happy: NYC

Sidewalk seating at Numero 28.

 

911 Memorial & Museum: While not a highlight for the kids, mainly because of their ages, we thought it very important to take them to the 911 Memorial. My husband and I had never been either. The day we went was drizzling most of the time followed by quite a rain storm so I didn’t get to take any pictures there. Nonetheless, we walked around, viewed the waterfall that was built in place of one of the towers, and shared with our kids the historical importance of this site. We decided not to go into the museum. I was told by many people that it may not be appropriate for kids under 10 years old. We will visit NYC again and take our kids once there are a little older.

So there you have it. Some things we did on our trip to The Big Apple. There is still so much to see and do (and eat!) in this, one of our greatest US cities! I guess we will just have to go back and take another bite 🙂

What are your recommendations of things to do with kids in NYC? We’d love to hear!

Cousins Rock! A Friend Forever, A Friend for Life! Celebrate National Cousins Day!

Well, hello there TBSH friends! Angela here! It’s been about 2 weeks (far too long) since my last post (I’ll explain in a second). But, I have so been enjoying all of Bridgette’s wonderful posts from France over the last few weeks! Hasn’t her vacation been simply fabulous?!?

So, why have I been like crickets here in Houston? Well for one, it’s summer and the kids are home. They keep me pretty busy and unable to sit down at my computer for any extended period of time. Actually, I think today is the first day in about 5 that I have even placed my fingers on my keyboard! Hello keyboard! How I’ve missed you. Secondly, my cousin Tricia and her son Tristan have been here visiting from Ft. Worth for the last 5 days. They just left and that makes me sad 😦 BUT, happy for the good times we have together a few times a year!

Much of our time together here at my house is just spent swimming and floating in the pool catching up and talking about life and the funny things we did when we were younger. We cook, and often end up catching up on a few chick flicks over some wine while our kiddos are playing in another room:) This time around we went bowling too, and one day we all went to Houston’s beautiful Buffalo Bayou Park. We rented bikes and road the paved trails. It was hotter than Hades!! But we had a great few hours! Plus, we were able to sweat out some of the wine we drank the night before :0 The visit by my cousin couldn’t have come at a better time for this post. You see, this Sunday, July 24th is National Cousins Day! And while my cousin and I won’t be together on this “special day” her visit certainly reminded me of the importance of our cousins!

To Be Simply Happy: Cousins

The beautiful Buffalo Bayou Park bike trail. Can you tell we were sweating like crazy??

To Be Simply Happy: Cousins

Jack’s cousin Tristan pointing something out in the small pond below The Kitchen at The Dunlavy where we grabbed a light lunch.

To Be Simply Happy: Cousins

Movie time with the cousins!

To Be Simply Happy: Cousins

It is said, that more often than not our cousins are our first best friends when growing up. That is certainly true for me! I was an only child until my mother remarried when I was 11. Prior to that my cousin Trish was definitely my best friend, the sister I never had! We were born just 7 months apart. We are 2 of only 7 first-cousins, not a very big clan. And, Trish and I are closest in age to each other. Here we are in one of our first photos together in 1972! Aren’t we cute?

To Be Simply Happy: Cousins

We lived only a quick 5 minute car ride from each other or 10-15 minutes by bike down the country roads. She only has one older brother that liked to give us grief us and make us miserable at all costs. So that made our bond even stronger! I know he looks cute in the photo, but don’t let that fool you 😉 I won’t bore you with all the details of our youth, but we had lots of fun climbing trees, playing with Barbies, running around with the dog, riding bikes, staying outside until the street lights came on, you know all the usual kid things in the 1970s.

So that’s a little “snapshot” of me and my cousin Tricia. Believe me I could go on and on, but then this post would be way too long and you’d get bored. Are you still reading, by the way?? 🙂

I really just wanted to alert you to the fact that this Sunday, July 24th is National Cousins Day. So, get together with your cousins and have some fun if they live nearby! If they don’t, at least reach out this weekend and let them know you are thinking of them and how much they mean to you. Maybe via a phone call, the old fashioned way 😉 I’m sure they’d love to hear your voice.

While doing a little research about Cousins Day I found a site with some fun facts called, “16 Reasons Why Your Cousin is Your BFF”. I’d like to share them with you. I think you’ll get some chuckles from them as you think about your childhood with your cousins!

Your cousins are like siblings, but better.

They are the first friends that you’ll make, and the fact that you’re family too means you’re unlikely to lose touch as you grow older.

Here’s how you know that your cousin is your BFF.

1. They know everything 

They know EVERYTHING about you, and this extends way beyond the usual favorite movies and favorite types of cheese knowledge. They know this, plus all the weird stuff, like how you can only eat food from a certain shaped plate.

2. Embarrassment? What embarrassment? 

You’re never embarrassed in front of them. This is probably because they’ve witnessed the most embarrassing things that’s ever happened to you, such as wetting yourself in the grocery store as a child. Nice…

3. Most memories involve them

They were there right beside you during all of the defining moments in your life. Defining moments like secretly getting your belly button pierced, underage drinking and the time you got lost at Disneyland.

4. You have matching scars 

Thanks to all of your adventures as kids you probably have at least one matching scar from an escapade gone awry.

5. Their presence means a lot 

If they aren’t attending a family event then you won’t be either. It just won’t be as fun.

6. Spending time together is the best

They are the only person that you would rather spend time with than go out with your friends on a Friday night.

7. You have a dance routine 

You have a special dance routine which is often requested by grandparents to be performed at family gatherings. Groovy.

8. Everyone thinks you are siblings 

You’ve lost count of the times people have mistaken you for siblings because you’re so alike. Secretly you wish you could trade your sibling in for your cousin sometimes. Sigh.

9. They’ve been there through the worst 

They’re always there for you when you have family drama. And because your family is their family they understand everything.

10. You have a secret language 

You have a special code involving facial signs, code words, random noises etc. Not even MI5 could crack these secret communication modes.

11. They are brutally honest 

They will be brutally honest with you about anything you ask them, and you’re never offended. Not even the time they told you that your new haircut made you look like a mushroom head.

12. They understand your food obsessions 

They know your favourite food combinations and will always ensure that the cupboards are fully stocked every time you visit. No judgements are passed – even if you have a thing for cold custard and toast.

13. They know your cringe moments

Like your questionable emo phase in Year 9, and the time you accidentally shaved your eyebrows off. And of course they bring all of this up at least once a month.

14. You have a drawer at their place

This contains spare PJs, toiletries, undies and socks for those unplanned sleepovers which happen at least once a week.

15. They make everything fun

A trip to the Post Office will contain at least three Facebook status worthy updates. And a night out with them is so eventful that it could be turned into a Hollywood movie.

16. They are reliable

They’ve been there for you since you were born, and you know that they’ll always be there for you no matter what!

Read more: http://metro.co.uk/2015/07/24/16-signs-your-cousin-is-your-bff-5308449/#ixzz4Ez73wUul

A Cactus Garden: Tips, Tricks, and Inspirations

To Be Simply Happy: Cactus Garden

I am sure you’re thinking: “Why the heck is Bridge blogging about a cactus garden when she is in the French Mediterranean right now”?  Far question, but when stumbling upon the natural spring water bath house I posted about the other day, my stroll in the area also welcomed my stumbling upon a cactus garden.  It wasn’t large in size, but there are two reasons I was drawn to this: (1) I have always loved the cactus gardens that are simple and are pleasing, geometrically, to the eye …, and (2) my mother-in-law mentioned her interest in revamping some of her landscape and she is interested in doing a cactus garden because of the ease of maintenance they require.  So, I naturally became that much more interested 🙂 … And, you know, come to think of it – I should have known this was coming after the hardship I had in walking away from taking photos of the beautiful cacti I came across when camping in Texas, which is blog piece you may also enjoy reading!

So, this blog post … Yes, it is of course for all of my TBSH friends, but it is also for my mother-in-law!  Have you ever made a cactus garden?  I haven’t yet, but I did want to share some great information I found when researching them, should you be interested in making one yourself.  And, wouldn’t you know it, I took to Pinterest (of course!) to look at what others have done when making an outdoor cactus garden and man are there some beautiful gardens!  So, I hope you have time, as well, to peruse my Cactus Board on the To Be Simply Happy Pinterest account 🙂

To Be Simply Happy: Cactus Garden

 

To Be Simply Happy: Cactus Garden

 

To Be Simply Happy: Cactus Garden

 

So, in my normal fashion, I want to share some interesting facts about cacti:

  1. The first mention of a cactus dates back to the 1700’s in botanist journals.
  2. There are over 2000 species of cacti.  (WOW – have fun researching all of those!  But, if you want a starting point, I have a great graphic of the most popular below in the post.)
  3. In the United States, it is illegal to dig up and sell cactus in Arizona and New Mexico.  So, for all of you cactus-cleptos … Don’t hit these states or you’ll regret it!
  4. Some cacti grow fruit, which people are known to consume and use for ingredients to cakes.  In fact, some cactuses are used to make red food dye!
  5. They have a shallow root system so that when rainfall occurs they can quickly absorb the water and begin storing additional water in preparation for any future drought.

In thinking about what cactus garden my mother-in-law is going to make, I really do hope she puts at least one in her garden commonly known as the “mother in law’s cushion” cactus!  I know I would appreciate the humor in that 🙂

 

To Be Simply Happy: Cactus Garden

 

But, as I know … like with any garden … planning is always the first major milestone, I found a great reference to the various types of cacti that I think can help you … and my mother-in-law as well, or anyone, ready to take on making a cactus garden:

 

To Be Simply Happy: Cactus Garden

 

Here is also a few really good videos that shares good information about cacti:

 

And… For those that prefer the indoor cactus approach, here is also a fun video to get the inspiration going 🙂

 

I clearly admitted to my lack of experience in making a cactus garden, although my adoration for cacti has been around for years.  What I am curious about, and I am hoping you can help me with: What are some of your experiences in making an outdoor cactus garden?  There is a comments section below you can engage and I would LOVE your part of the conversation.  Do you have any advice to lend me and my mother-in-law?  And, other resources or videos you think will help?  I know I can’t wait to see the end result of my mother-in-law’ so cactus garden (and mine should I find the space in my yard!), but any words of wisdom you’re willing to share we’re willing to listen and take :). Thanks for joining the blog and as your favorite cactus would say, should she speak: Stay Sharp!  –XOXO, Bridge

OH Yeah … I almost forgot, don’t forget to check out my favorite cactus gardens on our Pinterest Cactus Garden Inspiration board: http://pin.it/6J5Nrdr

 

Duck and Peach: The Sweetest Family Dinner Recipe

Have you ever thought: Hmmm … I wonder what duck and peach would taste like … together?  This would never had naturally entered my mind, but some few decades ago apparently it did my mother-in-laws and thank goodness for that!  If I haven’t shared already, she is a natural-born foodie that is marvelous in the kitchen.  Her senses and movements in preparing dishes is so harmonious … watching her in the kitchen is now one of my favorite past-times!

I don’t recollect the exact day, or even the exact year I had the pleasure of eating this beautifully blended meal, but I do remember the taste distinctively.  Before having this dish I never thought about eating duck, well … I take that back – I did already fall in love with fois gras, but that isn’t exactly the same!  This duck is more of a tender meat that is served as the primary focus of the dish, with sautéed peaches cooked as the perfect compliment.  It was years ago, at least ten (I remember having it before Max was born … but that is as good as my memory is helping me out on this one!), and no matter how many times this recipe has been made it is almost like I am eating it for the first time, experiencing the same surprise in each bite.  And, as if the taste of this dish wasn’t good enough, the fact it is healthy and doesn’t require a lot of time to prepare, it is no wonder I haven’t resorted to making this at least once a week 🙂  Perhaps I convinced myself some time ago that spoiling yourself to much of one thing will ultimately result in diffusing the appreciation for it’s original pleasure.  But, to be transparently honest, I have NEVER turned down eating this recipe and I’m not confident I’d have the willpower to do so should the opportunity present itself!

Whether you need a simple meal to impress your dinner guests, or a healthy compilation that adds a twist to the mundane menu, this recipe won’t disappoint.  So, from my family to yours, I sincerely hope you enjoy this unique, one of a kind recipe curated many years ago and has now become part of our permanent family recipe vault!

 

Grab the freshest, and ripest peaches you can find.

Grab the freshest, and ripest peaches you can find.

 

Takes those scrumptious peaches and slice them.

Takes those scrumptious peaches and slice them.

 

Get your duck breasts and prepare them by trimming the fat from the sides.

Get your duck breasts and prepare them by trimming the fat from the sides.

 

Don't feel obliged to trim all of the fat - leaving some helps bring flavor to the dish.

Don’t feel obliged to trim all of the fat – leaving some helps bring flavor to the dish.

 

Sauté your peaches with coconut oil, butter, and fresh squeezed orange juice.

Sauté your peaches with coconut oil, butter, and fresh squeezed orange juice.

 

Sprinkle in your red peppers.

Sprinkle in your red pepper.

 

Let your peaches simmer in your skillet for about 10 minutes on medium initially, and then placing it at low heat while you prepare you duck breasts.

Let your peaches simmer in your skillet for about 10 minutes on medium initially, and then placing it at low heat while you prepare you duck breasts; this allows your orange juice to caramlize the peaches.

 

Place your deck breast in a skillet, over medium heat.

Place your duck breast in a skillet, over medium heat.

 

Toss some black pepper and salt onto your duck breasts. Let the duck breasts cook on each side for 2-3 minutes.

Toss some black pepper and salt onto your duck breasts. Let the duck breasts cook on each side for 2-3 minutes.

 

To Be Simply Happy: Duck and Peach Recipe

Et Voila, as they say in France! Enjoy this duck and peach match made in heaven 🙂

 

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Montpellier, France: A City to Marvel

Bonjour, Bonjour my TBSH friends :). It’s me, Bridge, reporting from Montpellier, France while on my adventures in France!  The enchantment of this country continues to amaze and I can’t wait to continue posting on some of the cool and interesting places, foods, and activities we’re doing as a family here.  So, hopefully you’re enjoying the tales of France so far because there is a lot more I still have to share!

Montpellier, France … And what a wonder to behold!

 

There is a Triumphant Arc in Montpellier that welcomes you into the city. The great French king, Louis XIV (also referred to as Louis The Great) is honored through the Latin inscriptions found along the top of the arc. I did my best to interpret and translate the Latin writing, which reads: 72 years of the reign of Louis The Great, in reconciliation of the oppression that spanned over 4 decades of war over this land and sea, we are now at peace, 1715.

There is a Triumphant Arc in Montpellier that welcomes you into the city. The great French king, Louis XIV (also referred to as Louis The Great) is honored through the Latin inscriptions found along the top of the arc. I did my best to interpret and translate the Latin writing, which reads: 72 years of the reign of Louis The Great, in reconciliation of the oppression that spanned over 4 decades of war over this land and sea, we are now at peace, 1715.

It goes without saying the charms that embody France, and much adieu to the wealth of history and beauty the country consumes.  This is no different for Montpellier, France, which is the city my in-laws live nearby and also a city Guillaume, my husband, has fondest memories during his university days.  I have had my eye on visiting Montpellier for some time and now having recooperated from the long days in Paris with Amelie, I finally had the opportunity to visit this lovely city with both of the kiddos, and my mother-in-law, in partner.  Disappointed?  Absolutely not!

Montpellier is situated along the southern coast of France, which you may recognize most as the Mediterreanan region, along the Mediterranean Sea.  It is currently the 8th largest city in all of France, but more specifically the 3rd largest in the French Mediterreanan (Marseille and Nice hold 1st and 2nd next to Montpellier).  From what I could gather, the population count is around 268,574 (2012) and this is 1/3 comprised of students.  Why, you ask?  Well, Montpellier is quite heavily known in France for its university concentration, with one of the oldest universities in the world dating back to 1160, Univeristy of Montpellier.  The university’s initial teachings were in law, but has further established itself as one of the top areas in France for medicine and medical field practices.  Apparently, they didn’t want to stop there and have grown in other areas of study, such as chemistry, business, engineering (YAY!  This is where Guillaume went), architecture, civil aviation, agronomy, and arts and sciences.

As you can imagine, the schools lend opportunity for any visitor to see beautiful, historical buildings these students get to study in.  But, that isn’t the only eye-candy in the city you should drool over!  I had a great opportunity to explore this city with Max, Amelie, and my mother-in-law, and we walked away with no regrets.  With a few hours and a curiosity to explore, this is how we spent our time in beautiful Montpellier, France.

And Let There Be Water: The Roman Aquadect System That Still Remains in Montpellier, France

The Romans had a great influence on the infrastructure of France during their occupation over the lands back in the 1st venture BC, a time with Julius Ceasar ruled. They brought to France their water aqueduct framework, which you can still find remenance to throughout France (Pont de Gard is the most famous in France). An aqueduct system was built in Montpellier, although this was during a time when the Romans no later had rule over French land. A fun activity we did while exploring the city was in finding remaining clues to where the aqueduct system still remains, although it isn't in use.

The Romans had a great influence on the infrastructure of France during their occupation over the lands back in the 1st century BC, a time when Julius Ceasar ruled. They brought to France their water aqueduct framework, a system used to connect and offer water supply to major cities.  You can still find remenance to the Roman aqueduct system throughout France (Pont de Gard is the most famous in France). An aqueduct system was built in Montpellier, although this was during a time when the Romans no later had rule over French land. A fun activity we did while exploring the city was in finding remaining clues to where the aqueduct system still remains, although it isn’t in use.

 

Here is part of the aquaduct system we found nestled in a small private park close to an elementary school!

Here is part of the aquaduct system we found nestled in a small private park close to an elementary school!  This is bordered with an iron fence, but has a side entrance with 4 steps leading you down into this small bathing area.  

 

Another part of the aquaduct system we found!

Another part of the aquaduct system we found!  This part of the aquaduct system looked to be a place where you could enjoy the sound of lightly streaming water and perhaps clean your clothes, or maybe just place your hands in the water for a moment of fresh reprieve. 

 

Max and Amelie took a little rest and explore break in the small park where we found parts of the aquaduct system.

Max and Amelie took a little rest and exploration break in the small park where we found parts of the aquaduct system.  This is a quaint place to relax should the feet need a little rest while the youngest feet still need a place to roam, freely and safely 🙂

 

Take a Stroll: Walk the Charming Streets, Cobblestone and All

To Be Simply Happy: Montpellier, France

You’ll find many of the streets are still paved in cobblestone. To my surprise, Max noted his adoration for the cobblestone and he was imagining a time when horses were the main transportation, with their hoofs clacking against the stone. I feel this one of many small charms of the city that offers opportunity for your mind to ponder on the feet that walked the same streets.

 

To Be Simply Happy: Montpellier, France

These small streets offer good respite if you just need a small break from walking. Many of them are lined with tall residential buildings, offering shade from the sun with beautiful flowers ready to fragrance the path.

 

And, wouldn't you know it, Amelie found a statue that looks like a unicorn. I think this one is for her beloved teacher, Ms. Kvinta!

And, wouldn’t you know it, Amelie found a statue that looks like a unicorn. I think this one is for her beloved teacher, Ms. Kvinta!

 

And ... As you are leisurely strolling, look around at the sculpting along the buildings. This is one of the more entertaining ones we found ... I don't know what is going on with the sheep heads here but one is in utter shock and the other looks as if his eyes were gorged out!

And … As you are leisurely strolling, look around at the sculpting inscribed along the buildings. This is one of the more entertaining ones we found … I don’t know what is going on with the sheep heads here but one is in utter shock and the other looks as if his eyes were gorged out!

 

Ponder The Religious Side: Marval at the Many Churches and Religious History Integrated Throughout the City

The beautiful cobblestone streets will lead you to the Cathedrale Saint-Pierre de Montpellier, a Roman Catholic cathedral dating back to 1364. Although it was build in 1364, it wasn't until 1536 was it given the recognition of cathedral. Unfortunately in the 16th century it encountered major destruction during the period when Catholic and Protestant contention was high. Luckily, restoration on the cathedral was made, and the bell towers still ring daily to offer reference to the time, or in celebrations occurring at the cathedral.

The beautiful cobblestone streets will lead you to the Cathedrale Saint-Pierre de Montpellier, a Roman Catholic cathedral dating back to 1364. Although it was built in 1364, it wasn’t until 1536 was it given the recognition of cathedral. Unfortunately in the 16th century it encountered major destruction during the period when Catholic and Protestant contention was high. Luckily, restoration on the cathedral was made, and the bell towers still ring daily to offer reference to the time, or in celebrations occurring at the cathedral.

 

Another interesting fact about the cathedral is its attachment to the monestary and medical school. Originally medicine could not be practiced without the blessing of religious leaders, and therefore these two areas were closely integrated.

Another interesting fact about the cathedral is it’s attachment to the monestary and medical school. Originally medicine could not be practiced without the blessing of religious leaders, and therefore these two areas were closely integrated.

 

To Be Simply Happy: Montpellier, France

The magnitude in size of the cathedral is impressive. This shows your view should you stand close to the building and look straight up … Don’t hurt your neck, though!

 

Entrance into the cathedral is very grand and should you visit the cathedral it is open to the public but at specific days and times.

Entrance into the cathedral is very grand, and should you visit the cathedral it is open to the public but at specific days and times … So you’ll want to check ahead of time to put yourself at the right day and time to visit.

 

Another view of the front doors of the cathedral.

Another view of the front doors of the cathedral.

 

Another church (e'glise) worth visiting, and much different than the traditional Roman Catholic style, is the L'Eglise des Dominicains a Montpellier. This church is much smaller in size, although it is still within stone, century-aged walls.

Another church (e’glise) worth visiting, and much different than the traditional Roman Catholic style, is the L’Eglise des Dominicains a Montpellier. This church is much smaller in size, although it is still within stone, century-aged walls.  We didn’t visit all of the magnificent churches only because we could have spent another 3-4 hours visiting them all (there are around 10 in total that have extensive historical preservation and enchantment.).  But this church definitely lends for those who have an interest in seeing an eclectic combination of traditional modernism.

 

Quite contemporary and modern are the decorative, worship elements, you will still find the aroma of history in the air.

Quite contemporary and modern are the decorative, worship elements, you will still find the aroma of history in the air.

 

As we were pleasantly surprised, we were able to walk into the church with no restriction ... And it seemed as if we were given a gift because we were able to marvel without sharing! And, as you walk throughout the church, take the time to smell the flowers - they are fresh!

As we were pleasantly surprised, we were able to walk into the church with no restriction … And it seemed as if we were given a gift because we were able to marvel without sharing! And, as you walk throughout the church, take the time to smell the flowers – they are actually real … There are plenty … And they are fresh!

 

One thing you'll particularly enjoy looking at in this church are the modern stain-glassed windows. They are all unique and give opportunity for your mind to wonder on what they depict.

One thing you’ll particularly enjoy looking at in this church are the modern stain glassed windows. They are all unique and give opportunity for your mind to wonder on what they depict.

 

Explore The Crevices: Where One Door Can Lead You

Sometimes when you walk through the streets you'll find some doors remain open. Don't hesitate to explore ... In some cases these doors lead to the courtyards of the residential apartments many "Montpellians" live! But, in this case, we were lucky enough to find the school my mother-in-law is taking English lessons!

Sometimes when you walk through the streets you’ll find some doors remain open. Don’t hesitate to explore … In some cases these doors lead to the courtyards of the residential apartments many “Montpellians” live! But, in this case, we were lucky enough to find the school my mother-in-law is taking English lessons, which is found in a commercial building protected by two large red doors opening into a courtyard.

 

We were greeted with a beautiful courtyard with the most beautiful staircase and decorative ceiling.

We were greeted with a beautiful courtyard with the most beautiful staircase and decorative ceiling.

 

Here is a view of the most beautiful ceiling I have seen in a courtyard!

Here is a view of the most beautiful ceiling I have seen in a courtyard!

 

Another adventure we had while exploring this courtyard was in finding a wishing well! I mean ... We couldn't resist getting out our coins and everyone making a wish.

Another adventure we had while exploring this courtyard was in finding a wishing well! I mean … We couldn’t resist getting out our coins and everyone making a wish.  Even Mimi joined in on the fun … And we gave her an extra coin to make a wish for Guillaume, since he wasn’t with us at the time!

 

Amelie took her wishing seriously and thought long, and hard, for a few minutes before dropping her coin.

Amelie took her wishing seriously and thought long, and hard, for a few minutes before dropping her coin.

 

It was quite comical taking note of the different sounds our coins made when hitting the side of the well, and eventually making their final drops into the water. The fall to the bottom must have been at least 3-4 stories deep.

It was quite comical taking note of the different sounds our coins made when hitting the side of the well, and eventually making their final decent into the water. The fall to the bottom must have been at least 3-4 stories deep.  I must admit, the variety in “pa-aloof” sounds were really entertaining and offered some laughs.

 

I love this photo! The wishing well was a great place for a photo shot without worrying about getting in the way of pedestrians.

I love this photo! The wishing well was a great place for a photo shot without worrying about getting in the way of pedestrians.

 

Reward Your Palette and Shopping Side: Allow Indulgence For a Snack and a Little Shopping

Your sweet tooth may get the best of you - and that's okay! You'll find many creperies, patisseries, and ice cream shops to entice you. Mary Cherry was one of the cutest!

Your sweet tooth may get the best of you – and that’s okay! You’ll find many creperies, patisseries, and ice cream shops to entice you. Mary Cherry was one of the cutest!

 

As you can see here, we opted to stop for some ice cream, fresh squeezed lemonade, and water at an outdoor cafe that was nestled in between the park and a carousel for the kids to enjoy. Max CLEARLY didn't like his lemon and raspberry sorbet!

As you can see here, we opted to stop for some ice cream, fresh squeezed lemonade, and water at an outdoor cafe that was nestled in between the park and a carousel for the kids to enjoy. Max CLEARLY didn’t like his lemon and raspberry sorbet!

 

After devouring some ice cream, the kids found a tree with blue painted handprints along the side. Something to pass the time :)

After devouring some ice cream, the kids found a tree with blue painted handprints along the side. Something to pass the time 🙂

 

And as you make your way through to what they call the "Commercial" corridor of Montpellier, you'll find the main street has these compression road block barriers that are raised whenever the train is coming thru. I remember these same barriers from when I lived in Paris, because our street had the same. Therefore, I couldn't help but show the kiddos that you can stand on them while they move up and down!

And as you make your way through to what they call the “Commercial” corridor of Montpellier, you’ll find the main street has these compression road barriers that are raised whenever the train is coming thru. I remember these barriers from when I lived in Paris, because our street had the same. Therefore, I couldn’t help but show the kiddos that you can stand on them while they move up and down!

 

My favorite shop of them all when admiring window shopping was Happy Design! This was a fun place for everyone to go in and find something wacky and fun :)

My favorite shop of them all when window shopping was Happy Design! This was a fun place for everyone to go in and find something wacky and fun :). I have written a separate blog on my favorite finds in this shop – go check it out!

 

Get Your Childlike Energy Out: Enjoy the Many Attractions

Montpellier has a great children's park within the city that has both a playground area, as well as a tree-lined walking path where you can admire the many ponds and flowers.

Montpellier has a great children’s park within the city that has both a playground area, as well as a tree-lined walking path where you can admire the many ponds and flowers.

 

The park is open to the public and is actually quite close to the pavillion we had eaten our ice cream; walking between both is less than 1 minute!

The park is open to the public and is actually quite close to the pavillion we had eaten our ice cream; walking between both is less than 1 minute!

 

And, as you walk along the park you embark upon the entrance to the Polytechique University, which is the engineering school Guillaume spent 3 memorable years as a budding student! The kids loved seeing where their dad enjoyed his youth. The grounds weren't open to the public, but we were at least able to imagine the walk he took everyday thru the parks and the grounds he must have crossed as he hurried throughout his university days!

And, as you walk along the park you embark upon the entrance to the Polytechique University, which is the engineering school Guillaume spent 3 memorable years as a budding student! The kids loved seeing where their dad enjoyed his youth. The grounds weren’t open to the public, but we were at least able to imagine the walk he took everyday thru the parks and the grounds he must have crossed as he hurried throughout his university days!

 

You'll find among the major streets of Montpellier private chariots awaiting to take you along the city! So, if ever you just want a break from the walking, there are plenty of these ready to be your private driver.

You’ll find among the major streets of Montpellier private chariots awaiting to take you along the city! So, if ever you just want a break from the walking, there are plenty of these ready to be your private driver.  These guys were clearly trying to get a ride to their favorite pub in preparation to celebrate the 2016 EuroCup finals between France and Portugal 🙂

 

The city also offers a small train that offers tours around the city. Not another bad option should you wish not to walk and explore independently.

The city also offers a small train that provides tours around the city. Not another bad option should you wish not to walk and explore independently.

 

You'll know you're in the center of the city's energy when you are at the Opera House, which also has a beautiful fountain statue welcoming you outside the building! Here you will find the street lined with many outdoor restaurants, cafes, and shopping!

You’ll know you’re in the center of the city’s energy when you are at the Opera House, which also has a beautiful fountain statue welcoming you outside the building! Here you will find the street lined with many outdoor restaurants, cafes, and shopping.  And, to make sure there is always something for the children, while you enjoy your coffee, spirit, or meal … The kiddos can go on the carousel!

 

Another angle of this beautiful statue shows how Montpellier is supporting France, as well, in the upcoming EuroCup match between France and Portugal :)

Another angle of this beautiful statue shows how Montpellier is supporting France, as well, in the upcoming EuroCup match between France and Portugal with her blue, white, and red laua 🙂

 

When strolling the streets of Montpellier, don't be surprised to hear wonderful musicians filling the air. Some are looking for tips to help fund their passion, and others are just using the opportunity to practice. Regardless, I was never disappointed in the quality of their musical talents.

When strolling the streets of Montpellier, don’t be surprised to hear wonderful musicians filling the air. Some are looking for tips to help fund their passion, and others are just using the opportunity to practice. Regardless, I was never disappointed in the quality of their musical talents.

 

And, to end the day of enjoying Montpellier, we found our perfect spot tucked away in the cobblestone streets again!

And, to end the day of enjoying Montpellier, we found our perfect spot tucked away in the cobblestone streets against to take a little rest before walking back to the car!

I honestly didn’t know what to expect when visiting Montpellier, but was so impressed at every corner there seemed to be a hidden adventure or gem to explore.  The kids were never bored, and it has such a great balance of things to see and do for everyone in the family.  You’ll find I didn’t mentioned much about the cultural arts Montpellier has to offer.  I actually ran out of time to visit them!  I did visit one, which was open to the public for free and the kids actually tolerated it … So, not so bad!  I’ll make sure I blog about that and link it here soon.

And “Voila” as they say – here is the best glimpse of how we spent out time in Montpellier and hopefully gives you some good ideas on what you should do should you be interested in venturing off the beaten path in France like we did!  If you have been to Montpellier, I’d love to hear what other things you did that you think we should go back and see.  Or, if you also have stories or memories to share of your time in Montpellier, please share them in the comments below.  I’d love to hear all about it 🙂 — XOXO, Bridgette

Arugula with Quinoa & Grilled Halloumi Cheese

Hi friends! How’s your summer going so far? It’s crazy that it’s July already! We’re headed off to a waterpark today to have a little fun in the sun!

After all the meat eating we did July 4th weekend I am definitely in need of a light, meatless meal! How about you? Something we like to make around my house is arugula and quinoa salad topped with grilled Halloumi cheese. It’s filling, but not too filling. It’s great on its own, or as a side. Honestly, I just love eating Halloumi cheese by itself after we’ve pan grilled it! It’s slightly chewy and has a saltiness to it.

Have you tried Halloumi cheese? It’s yummy! Something my Lebanese husband introduced me to years ago. Halloumi cheese originated in Cyprus in the medieval Byzantine period and subsequently became popular throughout the Middle East. It’s a semi-hard, unripened, brined cheese made from a mixture of goat’s and sheep’s milk, and sometimes cow’s milk. Halloumi cheese is white, with a distinctive layered texture and has a salty flavor. It has a high melting point and so can be easily fried or grilled.

Here’s what you’ll need…

  • 1/4 cup of olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons of red wine vinegar
  • juice of 1/2 a lemon
  • cucumber, chopped into small pieces
  • tomato (we like the small grape tomatoes)
  • arugula
  • quinoa
  • halloumi cheese
  • salt & pepper to taste

 

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Directions:

For the dressing, mix the olive oil, red wine vinegar, and lemon juice in a small bowl and set aside.

(1) Prepare the quinoa according to package directions – do this a little ahead of time as you want it to cool before adding it to the salad. If you forget, you can always cool some off in the refrigerator after cooking 🙂 Also, there will probably be more quinoa than you need for this recipe. Save it and use it for something else. Quinoa is great for many other recipes and salads!

(2) Slice Halloumi into 1/4 inch pieces

(3) Heat non-stick saute pan to medium and add sliced Halloumi. “Grill” for about 5 minutes per side or until they start to brown a little. The Halloumi may stick to pan a little. If you’re worried about that happening give the pan a light spritz of olive oil while pan is heating, but not too much.

(4) Place arugula in a large salad bowl and top with some of the quinoa, as much or as little as you like, and mix together.

(5) Then top salad with the tomatoes and cucumbers.

(6) Pour the dressing over and mix everything well.

(7) Plate your salad and top with the Halloumi slices.

(8) Enjoy!

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Guacamole Recipe: A Fiesta of Color and Taste In Every Bite

To Be Simply Happy: Guacamole

I grew up thinking Mexican food was a part of everyone’s common-day recipes, but didn’t realize until venturing outside of my home state some years ago that apparently in Texas there is a special fusion of Mexican-style foods, called Tex-Mex, that lends uniqueness to the origins of Mexican food.  The earliest recollection I had to this experience was when skiing in Colorado for a UIL band competition when I was around fourteen years old and my friends and I decided to eat at a “Mexican” restaurant.  I thought I had ordered the typical refried beans, Mexican rice, and enchiladas.  I think I must have starred at my plate for what seemed hours when they gave me my order; these were NOT refried beans nor enchiladas … It was black beans with no seasoning, and a dry burrito (I think?)!

To Be Simply Happy: Guacamole

I have lived long enough to build quite a fondness for many Tex-Mex dishes, and surprisingly guacamole was not on my original list of favorites should you have asked me when in my teens.  I don’t know why the appreciation for avocado came in my 20’s, but I am SO happy to have found it, and there is NO looking back now 🙂  This has now blessed many of my meals and I am really happy that both of my kids have found their own love for guacamole to the point they also love making the recipe!  Plus … Let’s be honest, the fact they can make this and it still come out equally tasty saves momma some much need time on other parts of the cooking – YAY me!

 

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Turkey Taco Salad – An Easy Weeknight Meal!

Howdy from Texas! I hope you all have been enjoying Bridgette’s fabulous posts while she is vacationing with her family in France. I sure have! I think next time she should take me along! Don’t you think?

Anyway, back here in Houston, it’s Taco Tuesday at my house! I’ve been making tacos every Tuesday for a while now! I’m tired of tacos, but not of the “taco” flavor. Today I decided to mix it up! Taco “salad” without the lettuce. Only because my kiddos aren’t really lettuce fans yet unless it has ranch dressing on it 🙂 Though, adding a little lettuce is definitely a nice touch.

But, don’t be fooled. This “taco salad” is full of healthy goodness from the lean ground turkey, garbanzo beans, red kidney beans, and avocado. And, you can make it in less than 20 minutes 🙂 If you have any leftover it makes a great school lunch for the kids! Straight from the fridge to the lunchbox, doesn’t need to be warmed!

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  • 1.25lb package of ground turkey
  • 1/2 package of taco seasoning (gluten free, if needed)
  • 1/4 cup of water
  • can of red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
  • can of garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
  • can of black olives, chopped by hand or food processor
  • shredded cheddar or Mexican cheese
  • tortilla chips
  • avocado, optional, to serve
  • salsa, optional, to serve
  • fresh cilantro, optional, to serve
  • chopped tomatoes, optional, to serve
  • lettuce, optional, to serve

Brown the ground turkey until no longer pink. Drain, if needed. I find that the turkey doesn’t produce much oil when cooking though and often doesn’t need to be drained. Add the taco seasoning pack to the pan and follow instructions on back of packet. While meat is simmering with the taco seasoning mix, open and drain the garbanzo beans and the kidney beans in a colander. Rinse them with water. Put them in a large bowl with the chopped black olives and mix well. Once the meat is done add it to the large bowl with the beans and olives and mix again.

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Then take some of your tortilla chips and put them in individual serving bowls, crunching them up a bit so they are in smaller pieces. Top the chips with the bean, meat, and olive mixture. Sprinkle shredded cheese over the top. At this point, I often put the individual bowls into the microwave for about 40 seconds just to melt the cheese a little, or you could skip this step altogether. Now add your optional items like the avocado, tomatoes, lettuce, salsa, and fresh cilantro. Now it’s time to eat!

Serves 4

I hope your family enjoys this “Taco Tuesday” alternative as much as mine does! Please comment and let us know what you think.

**Here’s a great green salsa that we love called Wrights of Texas. It’s local to Texas and we buy it in our HEB grocery store. Look for it if you shop at HEB.

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The Absolute Best Gluten-Free Strawberry Parfait

Apologies friends - I didn't upload my original photos to the recipe before departing for France; I didn't want to stop the recipe for your enjoyment and want to give appropriate credit to recipe hub.com for this photo!

Apologies friends – I didn’t upload my original photos to the recipe before departing for France; I didn’t want to stop the recipe for your enjoyment and want to give appropriate credit to recipe hub.com for this photo!  When I arrive back to the U.S., I will update this post to include my original photos for you 🙂

Bonjour from France my TBSH friends :). I hope the weather is treating you as kindly as it has been here in the sunny Mediterranean Sea!  Wouldn’t you know it June 23rd is National Strawberry Parfait Day, and what a surprise it was for me to realize the history to this dish that ties back to France.  Apparently the parfait dates back as early as 1894, which is the date the parfait is first noted in a French cuisine article … So I guess that means the French can claim it as their creation?

My initial assumptions of a parfait are naturally the combination of yogurt, fruit, and a granola and/or mixed nuts.  Apparently my friends, this is the American version!  I had the privilege of sitting with my mother-in-law (whom is French!) this morning to discuss the original foundations of the parfait, again assuming it’s origin is from France, and she offered a little history lesson in the fact the original French dish couldn’t have included yogurt because yogurt had not hit France until the 1950’s period!  As she recalls, her grand-father back in the War World II period started making homemade yogurt on the family farm, which my mother-in-law holds fond memory to.  He took the recipe from the Yugoslavia traditions of making yogurt because yogurt was not offered in France to the general public.  In fact, she remembers him making his yogurt and making enough to be able to offer it to neighbors in the village (so cool!).  Therefore, apparently, the original parfait (which means “perfect” for those French-lingual enthusiasts) was actually made with creams and custards, not yogurt!  I guess we in America needed a simpler path to our pleasure :).

The recipe I would like to offer below is one that honors the original tradition of the strawberry parfait, and is also one that the entire family asked seconds for – so it must be pretty darn good!

Family Rating: 10

Like my other recipes, I always like to include the rating my family gives on a recipe, because I feel we have such a diverse palette and age range … And, honestly, it’s fun watching everyone have a vote!

  1. Amelie gives this a 10!  (She’s eight years old and can’t wait to be nine soon!  Why she liked this dish so much is because she’s a natural sweet-tooth and threw both of her hands up … With all fingers in the air … To represent her vote!
  2. Max gives this a 10!  (He’s the tween in the family and can be one my harshest critics with recipes … But, nothing harsh on this recipe – he ran around the table yelling 10 for this dish!)
  3. Guillaume gives this a 10! (So, this was most surprising because he isn’t a sweet-tooth … )
  4. Bridgette (yes, this is me!) gives this a 10!  (The granola sold it for me, to my dismay.  I thought basil would add an earthy taste but in fact embellished the granola to a point of addiction!)

INGREDIENTS

DISH INGREDIENTS

Ingredients for the Lemon Custard:

  • 3 cups of heavy cream
  • 1 1/4 cups of brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup of fresh lemon juice
  • 1 cup of gluten-free baking flour
  • 6 tablespoons of unsalted butter

Ingredients for the Homemade Granola:

  • 2 tablespoons of finely chopped basil
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
  • 1 cup of brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons of unsalted butter

CUISINE EQUIPMENT

  • Measuring Spoons
  • Measuring Cup
  • 2 Cooking Sheets (1 for the strawberries and 1 for the granola)
  • Mixing Bowls
  • Large Saucepan
  • Plastic Wrap
  • Parchment Paper

GARNISH FACTS (Optional)

  • Fresh Mint
  • Whip Cream

RECIPE FACTS

  • Servings: 4-6 Persons, depending upon portion offered
  • Preparation Time: 15 minutes
  • Cooking Time: 10 minutes (for the custard to cook), 10-12 hours (for custard to settle), 25 minutes (for the granola to cook), and 5 minutes (for the strawberries to roast)
  • Serving Tips: For the best visual delivery of this dish, make layers of custard, strawberries, and granola!  It isn’t required for a better taste, but putting whip cream and a mint leave along the top of the dish makes for another inviting affect!

RECIPE DIRECTIONS

Preparing the Custard.  You’ll want to begin with the preparation of the custard, naturally because it takes the longest!  It doesn’t require a lot of cooking, just time for the custard to chill in the refrigerator.  Therefore, I’d suggest making this either first thing in the morning (if you are wanting to eat it for dinner on the same the day), or prepare after dinner so that you can offer it as a treat as a breakfast the following day.  Either way, you can’t go wrong!

  1. Place the large saucepan onto the stove and put the temperature at medium heat.
  2. Add your heavy cream and 1 cup of brown sugar into the saucepan.
  3. Cook the two ingredients until the sugar has dissolved (this should take between 3 – 5 minutes).
  4. Remove the saucepan from the stove and slowly stir in your lemon juice into the saucepan.
  5. Wait about 5 minutes for the saucepan ingredients to slightly cool.
  6. Pour the ingredients from the saucepan into a bowl (I would suggest a glass bowl so that you can see from the sides how it is cooling while it sits in the refrigerator).
  7. Place plastic wrap on top of the bowl and place on a flat shelf in the refrigerator.
  8. Let your homemade custard sit for about 10 – 12 hours in the refrigerator.

To Be Simply Happy: Strawberry Parfait

Preparing the Granola.  Making homemade granola can be so rewarding!  Don’t doubt the taste of this granola by the inclusion of Basil – trust me, it tastes SO good.  And, you can easily double-up on this recipe and make extra for other recipes should you need more!

  1. Preheat your oven to 325 Fahrenheit.
  2. In a mixing bowl, combine your brown sugar, butter, flour, vanilla, and basil.  (HINT: picking fresh basil and cutting into small pieces offers a fresher flavor to the granola)
  3. Either with a fork, or with your hands, kneed the ingredients to a point of consistency of small chunks, or clumps.
  4. Taking one of your cooking sheets, cut a parchment paper piece to fit and place onto the cooking sheet.
  5. Place the granola clumps onto the cooking sheet. (The clumps should be about the size of a nickel.)
  6. Place the cooking sheet into the oven and cook until the clumps are golden brown.  This should take around 25 minutes.
  7. Once the granola has reached a golden brown, remove from the oven and let cool for 5-10 minutes.
  8. Remove the granola and place into a bowl.  Take a fork and crumble the granola clumps into smaller pieces.
  9. Voila – you have granola!

Preparing the Strawberries.  Of course you can opt to put just fresh, diced strawberries on your parfait.  But, you HAVE to try your parfait with roasted strawberries – it’s an unexpecting treat! … Plus, it’s simple to do 🙂

  1. Raise the temperature of your oven from 325 to 425 Fahrenheit.
  2. Take your strawberries and cut them into bite-sized pieces.
  3. In a bowl, place your strawberries and toss them with brown sugar.
  4. Taking the other cooking sheet, cut a parchment paper piece to fit it and place the parchment paper on top of the cooking sheet.
  5. Scatter your strawberries onto the cooking sheet.
  6. Place the cooking sheet into the oven and let the strawberries roast.  This should take about 5 minutes, or until you find juice is starting to come out from the strawberries.
  7. Remove the strawberries from the oven and let them cool!

Oh … And don’t forget to turn off your oven!  I tend to always forget this and Guillaume gets SO upset with me 🙂

To Be Simply Happy: Strawberry Parfait

And, there you have it – a parfait inspired from the original roots of the French parfait, combined with the American influence by adding homemade granola!  You absolutely cannot go wrong when offering this dish for either breakfast, or as a dessert.  Hands down, this dessert passed the litany test with the family and has hit one of the highest success scores from the entire family.  From our French-American fusion family to yours – Bon Appetite!

Que Bella Bolognese Sauce!

Happy Sunday! Today I thought I’d share one of my family’s Sunday dinner favorites with you. Even though it’s grilling season, the weather doesn’t always cooperate. This bolognese sauce served with pasta or over rice is one my whole family likes and is great on a rainy day.

I started experimenting with making homemade bolognese sauce a few years ago. I wanted a variation to the typical spaghetti dinner. I scoured recipes on the Internet, taking a little from the ones that sounded good, and came up with my own interpretation. While, basically they are all similar, there is definitely room to make it personal. It can be served with pasta or even rice! Being gluten sensitive, I have mine with the rice.

I’ll tell you upfront, this isn’t a quick meal, but once you get it all put together in the pot the rest of the time it’s just simmering with an occasional stir and maybe adding a little more stock as it simmers down. There’s plenty of time to get other things done between stirring and adding stock. I’ll often make this recipe on a Sunday afternoon. Starting around 3p. Then we’re ready to eat around 6p.

This meal is in the top 5 of my kid’s favorites around my house. And, if your kids are anything like my 7 and 10 year olds you know they can be hard to please 🙂 So, here’s a great bolognese sauce that even the kids should like!

Recipe ingredients:

  • 5 stalks of celery
  • 4 carrots
  • 1 white onion
  • 10 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 1.5 lbs of ground beef
  • 6 fresh basil leaves (removed from stems)
  • fresh oregano (removed from stems) or dried if you do not have fresh
  • fresh thyme sprigs (attached to stems)
  • 3 dried bay leaves
  • 1/4 red wine
  • 6 oz can of tomato paste
  • 24 oz of chopped tomatoes
  • 32oz carton of chicken stock
  • olive oil
  • 1/2 tablespoon of worcestershire sauce
  • sea salt and pepper to taste
  • fresh parmesan cheese for serving
  • rice or pasta

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To make:

  • with heat on medium to medium low add olive oil to large saute pan (with high sides) to coat bottom, warm
  • peel and quarter onion and add to food processor to chop **if you don’t have a large food processor you’ll just have to chop by hand**
  • add garlic cloves to food processor with onion and chop a little more (not too mushy, you want little chunks)
  • put onion and garlic mixture and sea salt (to taste) into heated pan of olive oil and saute until soft (about 6 minutes) stirring occasionally so it doesn’t stick
  • cut celery & carrots into chunks, then add to food processor and pulse until in smaller pieces (again not too much, you don’t want mush)
  • add chopped celery & carrots to the pan with the sauteed onion & garlic, sea salt to taste, simmer until softened, about 10 minutes
  • add the 1.5 lbs of ground beef to the pan with everything else and cook, approximately 10 minutes, breaking up pieces until no longer pink, stir frequently
  • mix in tomato paste
  • stir in chopped tomatoes and add a little more sea salt (i know this sounds like a lot of salt, but in the end it is not)
  • turn heat down to low
  • add 2 cups of chicken stock, stirring
  • add dried bay leaves, fresh thyme sprigs, basil leaves, and oregano leaves
  • add 1/4 cup of red wine
  • Pour a glass for yourself!!
  • add 1/2 tablespoon worcestershire sauce
  • stir everything well
  • simmer uncovered on low for 1.5 to 2 hours (or longer if you have time), stirring occasionally & adding chicken stock from time to time as liquid evaporates, you should have bubbling, but not popping out of the pan!
  • prepare your pasta of choice or white rice
  • serve in bowls and garnish with freshly grated parmesan cheese
  • Enjoy!

I hope your family enjoys it as much as mine does!

With pasta

With pasta

With rice

With rice

 

10 Weekender Bags Worth Going On The Road For

the ANGELA edit

I’ve got a long weekend trip to Aspen with girlfriends coming up in a couple of weeks and I am hoping to pack light since this isn’t a ski trip for us as it is mud season there. We will mostly just be hanging out at the house, taking in the sights around Aspen, and just enjoying each other’s company away from our daily responsibilities. A little down time and recharging before the kids are out of school in just a few short weeks!

I won’t need all of the things you need when you go on a ski trip, so I got to thinking about a weekender bag. Being a Stella & Dot Stylist I have a few already, but I wanted to see what else was out there.

Much as we’d all love to be jetting off to Europe or Mexico for 10 days at a time, the…

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How To Make Your Own Ripped Jeans

the ANGELA edit

Who loves the ripped jeans look? I do! It seems like for the most part they are always in style too! Ripped jeans aren’t a new trend—not even close. The distressed style has fallen in and out of fashion favor since the 1980s, but it seems that in the last year or so, they’re more popular than ever.

Now I know not that ripped jeans are not appropriate everyday, everywhere, but on many days they are! Days when you are out running errands, going to the movies with your main squeeze, or when you are just hanging with your gal pals, to name a few. But, don’t despair, you CAN give your ripped jeans a polished look with a great top and fabulous accessories giving you more opportunities to wear them!

Photo via New Fashion Craze

Of course you can buy ripped jeans just about anywhere that sells jeans and most likely…

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Home Inspiration: Fashion Designer Jenni Kayne’s 1980s Haven in Beverly Hills

I’m a sucker for interior and exterior design! I absolutely love this home! It really speaks to my inner interior designer. Check it out on the blog today!

the ANGELA edit

As I’ve scoured Houzz and Pinterest day dreaming about my own home remodel I have realized that I have saved multiple rooms from fashion designer Jenni Kayne’s Beverly Hills home . It’s absolutely gorgeous in my opinion. It’s the kind of home that says, “come in, stay a while, and relax…

I absolutely love the mix of natural wood and stone with the organic, textural elements. It is all at once intimate and inviting while exuding a chic and refined vibe.  My kinda place! “The rooms have real depth, but there’s nothing fussy about them.” And, I love the subtle, not overwhelming, pops of color lightly dispersed throughout the various rooms.

Photo via Architectural Digest

Photo via Architectural Digest

Photo via Architectural Digest

Photo via Architectural Digest

So, while I continue to daydream and peruse home designs for my own home remodel, I will definitely keep this stunning home in…

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Favorite Things: NARS Concealer and Skin Drink Primer

the ANGELA edit

Hi friends! Happy Friday! We made it to another weekend! And its a gorgeous day here in Houston!

Welcome to my first post called “Favorite Things”! For some time now I have wanted to start posting about some of my favorite things. I always love hearing about great products that other people like and would recommend. Don’t you? I hope to update you with my Favorite Things on a weekly basis so check in often!

First up is the NARS Radiant Creamy Concealer ($30). It was recommend to me by one of the associates at Sephora when I went in for my usual Stila concealer but they didn’t carry it anymore. Don’t you hate when that happens? I desperately needed concealer so I went with their recommendation that day. I’m so glad I did. I love this stuff! Even better than my Stila. It goes on so smooth with…

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Spring & Summer Totes: An Oh So Fun Obsession!

the ANGELA edit

Hey Y’all! I love totes! And spring and summer offer the best totes in my opinion. Colors, embroidery, different materials, fun sayings, you name it! The problem is where to put them all?!? They do take up a lot of space. I need to build a special closet in my house just to accommodate all the totes I currently have and to add more to my collection 😊

I popped into my local Francesca’s to see what they had new for the Spring. They always have some cute seasonal things. I am by no means opposed to spending money on classic, long-lasting clothes and accessories, but sometimes it’s the fun, less expensive, seasonal things at at local retailer that can give your change of season wardrobe a fresh look and a little boost!

What cute totes thay have for the summer!! Check them out below as well as cute totes…

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De-Stress According to Your Astrological Sign

the ANGELA edit

According to Well and Good, whether you’re a feisty fire sign or an airy daydreamer, there’s a de-stressing method that fits your unique astrological profile just right. Think of this as your toolkit to regaining that feeling of Zen, regardless of how hectic things get.

“Astrology has helped us determine our decorating style, bedroom paint color, travel plans, ideal engagement ring, and so much more—why stop at stress management?”

Read on to see how how your astrological sign should de-stress. And, let me know in the comments section at the end if you think they got it right! I think that they hit the nail on the head with mine – Capricorn – having a plan set in place always makes me feel more at ease. Though a good massage never hurts 🙂

Aries: Work out

Photo via Elle

Aries energy can burn bright and hot. When she gets…

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Happy Girl Gang Appreciation Day!

A Color Pop Life

May I kick off this blog by saying Thank You Ban.do for putting this holiday in my monthly calendar! I would have never known this day actually was celebrated had it not been beautifully shaded blue (huh?) in my monthly calendar view! But, despite the day being in a shade more commonly known for boys, I won’t let that distract the fact that there seems to be a new day of the year I should be looking forward to: Girl Gang Appreciation Day!

I tried to get some context tohow this day became one now earmarked as an official day of celebration but Google and Wikipedia both failed me on this. I did find, however, Urban Dictionary’s definition of girl gang: “those fearless ladies who exude self-confidence and help build their fellow sistas up, not tear them down” – I am liking that! But, I think Chelsea Handler may have…

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Around Town: Etoile Cuisine et Bar

the ANGELA edit

Did that gorgeous bowl of mussels (moules) stop you in your tracks? You can enjoy this delectable dish and more at Etoile Cuisine et Bar!

Tucked in a corner of bustling Uptown Park, Etoile is not a new restaurant in Houston, but it has held it’s own and continues to please after 5 years! It’s a sophisticated French eatery with a modern farmhouse interior boasting chandeliers, gorgeous wood accents, and a muted color palatte, and serving traditional & seasonal French fare. There is also a nice patio area to dine on when the weather permits, like the day we were there. While all the new restaurants in town are getting mentioned on blogs and websites I thought that Etoile Cuisine et Bar deserved a little “re-recognition” too 🙂

The Story…

“The owners of Etoile, Chef Philippe Verpiand and Monica Bui, have created an inviting, warm European environment where fine French food…

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THE Spring Wreath: A Ridiculously Easy DIY

Spring isn’t the same without a fresh wreath adorning the front of the house! Check out this super easy DIY that will get your home sprung for Spring in 10 minutes! Also, while there, vote on where you will most like hang your wreath this Spring season!

A Color Pop Life

Hello Friend!  Okay … you may be thinking, “Bridge, you mistakenly capitalized THE in the blog post title”, I’ll have to openly disappoint you.  I meant to do that!  Why?  Because now that I have made this wreath … on a whim I will add … it is my quintessential Spring wreath that will now be coming out every year as the flowers are showing signs of poppin’.

As much as I am loving the Spring flowers peeking through landscapes now in Houston (although in full disclosure, I’m about over all of the yellow pollen gracing my constantly, fresh clean car … not to mention the sneeze fits it is giving me every single day), I’ve been feeling that je ne sais quoi is missing to show my little white cottage (a.k.a. my house) is happy for Mother Spring.  There has been a small little nod in the back of mind…

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