Friday, January 30, 2009

Go Healthy!

Last night I went to a "Go Healthy" event in which Ali Vincent, the first female Biggest Loser, was presenting and my personal favorite, Devin Alexander, host of Discovery Health's Healthy Decadence and author of several cookbooks (three of which I own). My favorite is The Decadent Diet. I've swooned over Devin's recipes on this blog before - her chocolate layer cake and zucchini boats are just a couple that have become hits both with us and our family and friends. Bill's brother, Tom, just loves the chocolate cake and the mini-cheesecakes and chocolate brownie cups were a hit at book club just this week!

Devin's food tastes great and she has worked to re-create the flavors and recipes we've come to love - without the hefty calories and fat! Devin lost 55 pounds almost twenty years ago. She has kept the weight off primarily through diet and food choices. She is a sweet gal with a wholesome and honest personality who shares her experiences and lessons from her heart as she will come out and say, "I am obsessed with food". She's turned this into a healthy obsession that has launched her career in ways she never expected.

I know I'm a little in my own world on this because as I excitedly shared with folks this week about getting to go to this event - pretty much no one had heard of Devin Alexander or her show. Folks were more intrigued by the presence of a "Biggest Loser" participant. However, I remember a time when a twenty-something me would get up each morning to watch a little known gal named Rachael Ray. I'd print her recipe using my dial-up internet and make whatever her recipe was - every week - faithfully! Maybe this'll happen one day and this cookbook author will one day have a network talk show of her own!

Besides getting to meet an author in person, getting my sticky, crusty, well-used cookbook signed and have a photo snapped, I did learn a thing or two!

Fat really is heavy! Nikki and I got to hold five pounds of fat. Wow, it is heavy - and takes up a lot of surface area! Yuck! Then, we got to saddle on twenty pounds of weight on our belly. No wonder back pain comes with weight gain. Ugh!

A Triathlon is definitely out of the question. Um, it was never really in question, but after listening to John Curley from Evening Magazine talk about how he almost drowned in the swimming portion of the IronMan France - I still have goosebumps!

Zumba looks fun! Nikki and I were intrigued with the "Zumba" dancers from the Y. This is a fun, Latin-inspired dance that gives you a great workout at the same time. Hmmm, wonder what classes are offered locally other than the YMCA?

Watch the numbers on lean meat. When purchasing lean ground beef - make sure you buy 96% lean. Devin gave the example of using even a small percentage difference of 93% can result in a significant calorie difference.

Set goals. If you don't set a goal, you are unlikely to achieve noticeable results. Even starting small - eat 100 less calories per day or bike one mile farther each month - it all adds up!

A little goes a long way. When making something with chocolate chips, for instance, use the mini chips. This way you're more likely to get a chip in every bite - thus spreading the flavor. Same goes for salads. Take the time and prepare a "chopped" salad. This way, you get more of the flavor in each bite and are less likely to use as much dressing.

Cook extra. Cook extra chicken breast when preparing a recipe. This is a great way to keep good food on hand when you want a quick snack or are looking for some protein to add to a salad or other meal. Munching on healthy cooked and seasoned chicken is a much better alternative than a lowfat cookie or other quick grab-and-go food.

Find ways to enjoy the foods you love. Devin said she hasn't eaten fried food since 1987! Wow, I don't know that I'd achieve that kind of record, but what she explained made sense. She loves french fries, fish and chips, onion rings, etc. However, she's chosen to eat these foods when she prepares them and can choose the ingredients and bake rather than fry. When she's eating out, she sticks to choices she knows are healthier options.

Olive Oil is Important. Yes, Dr. Oz tells us extra virgin olive oil is good for us, but a tablespoon or two - not glug, glug, glug, glug... Devin recommends an olive oil mister (with the real stuff, not the cans from the store). Shop around until you find an oil you truly love and when you spray on top of your baked foods before cooking that is the first flavor you'll taste when you bite into it and it will make your meal all the more satisfying!

All in all - it was a great event for only $15.00! So glad I went! Thanks for joining me, Nikki - it was great to share an evening with you!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

A Night at the Oprah, I Mean Opera

Thursday night, Andrea called and asked if I wanted to go the Seattle Opera with her the following evening. Her childhood friend Brian was performing in one of the lead roles in Bizet's The Pearl Fishers. She had two tickets and we ended up inviting OJ along (for obvious reasons to those who know her) and Andrea got her a ticket. OJ called Friday and said she couldn't make it after all. Andrea and I sent texts to those we knew that might be interested, but in the end, realized we were going on our own. We decided to just let it go knowing we'd have fun nonetheless. We were excited though when OJ called that evening to say she would be there after all after the first Act. Yippee!!

When we arrived Andrea was picking up our tickets and I heard, "Courtney W----!" It was my good friend Amy from high school. We haven't seen each other in years! She was there with her entire family to also watch Brian - what a nice surprise! We had the fortune of getting a bite to eat with them before the show. It was great.

OJ arrived at the first intermission, as promised. She had a few glasses of wine and all during the (long) intermission, we chatted and laughed away. The show was really great. This was my first "real" opera and I was pretty impressed. Brian did great and we got a chance to say hello to him afterward back in his dressing room.

We went to a local pub afterward and had a really great time - lots of laughing and storytelling involved of course. I love the below picture of Andrea - this is one of my favorite faces she makes! When we got back to the parking garage, we said goodbye to OJ and then Andrea and I headed upstairs to our cars. Andrea's was next so she said she'd drive me to where my car was (it was 1 a.m. after all and the garage was completely empty). We realized they'd coned off that section of the garage, so Andrea just drove around it. But... She actually drove OVER one of the cones and we drug it with us up to the next floor. Miss Prepared, as I like to call her, had a flashlight and there it was - a big orange cone wedged underneath her car. She was in a dress, so I crawled down trying to yank it out. Of course we were laughing hysterically by this time. I couldn't budge it, so we had her pull forward and backward until finally it worked its way out - perfectly upright by the way! Oh my - this was quite funny to us. (I promise we had no alcohol - strawberry lemonade only!).
I got home about 2:30 a.m. - quite the late night for me these days. I had such a great time - thanks OJ and Andrea! Can't wait to hang out again someday soon!
PS: When uploading the above photos I saved them as "Oprah" instead of "Opera". Yeah... I know.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Dog Pack

Yesterday, our friends Ron and Roxanna stopped by. Their house is up for sale so they had to leave home during an open house - of course bringing their furry friends with them. Oh, I don't miss those days.
It was great to catch up with them. While we chatted - Baxter and Bailey (brother and sister Goldendoodles) romped in the backyard with Annie and Libby. It turned out to be quite difficult to snap their photo as these guys were all over the place. It was funny to see them run back and forth from window to window on our patio as you'd see Baxter and Bailey ... and Libby running not far behind!

Quilt Love

My friend Evelyn dropped by today and brought us our wedding gift - a homemade quilt. We went shopping a few months back for fabric and I chose this very fun Amy Butler "Daisy Chain" design. It is definitely more bright than we had anticipated, but I just LOVE it. I think it is very fun, beautifully made and incredibly special - given it is made just for us by our dear friend!

Yay for quilts! Wow, I'm so excited! And, as you can see - Wilson took a quick likin' to it too!

Friday, January 2, 2009

Last Year's Accomplishments and Next Year's Plans

Working in the Human Resources field, I am quite comfortable with the process of goal setting. I like this idea a whole lot better than setting lofty resolutions that often result in failure. But, as we do at work, I first must document my accomplishments. Here are some of the highlights from 2008:

Read more. I read more in 2008 than I have in years and it felt great! I joined a few months ago and found it a great way to balance my passion for eliminating clutter by getting rid of any books I don't love to make room for new books to try. I've participated in a book club for a couple of years now, but it seems the books we read this last year have been better than ever and I've really enjoyed this as a way to spend my alone time. Ask me about my favs!

Cookie baking. I perfected the ultimate chocolate chip cookie and have been able to share them with all of our new neighbors (I know, very Bree Van DeKamp) as well as our family and friends.

Landscaping. I never gave much thought to bushes and trees until we purchased this home with a blank slate for a backyard. Bill and I had lots of fun throughout 2008 visiting nurseries and learning about foliage and shrubbery to fill up our beds. I think we did pretty well, but we will see what emerges this Spring.

Aunt & Uncle Time. We've been fortunate to get to spend time with our two nephews and niece throughout the year and watch them grow. Overnighters with Tanner and Maggie while their Mom and Dad went out on dates have been particularly fun as were the mornings with Carson while his parents had softball practice down the street. It has been great for all of us to spend time together and develop our special relationships.

Paid for Wedding, Honeymoon and Reception. We did it. We pulled off a wedding in another country, followed by an amazing honeymoon and intimate reception planned in less than seven months. We did it all without loans or credit and it all turned out beautifully.

The Dining Room Table. You thought I might forget this little diddy, didn't you? It was love at first sight, but we waited until we had the cash to bring her home. It makes her all the more enjoyable! She's a beaut and it was a pleasure to share Thanksgiving with her.

Bike Riding. I think this was the first time I'd ever ridden any sort of a distance on a bike without hurting (kudos to the gel-filled/split bike seats or "saddles" as Ann would say). Living near a paved trail has proven to be quite a treat and I've found it quite enjoyable to say, "I rode to Tenino!" The pink fingerless gloves make it all the more fun.

Blogging. Couldn't leave the ol' Jahjong out. Blogging personally and sharing in others' blogs whether someone I've never met - The Pioneer Woman or a lifelong friend - The Norris Clan - it is a whole new experience for me and I've enjoyed it as a way to connect with friends and family.

So, after all that patting myself on the back. Here we go, my goals for the upcoming year:

Stick to our budget - unless for emergencies. Bill and I are pretty like-minded financially and have worked hard over the years to have no consumer debt, but there is always room for improvement. After returning from our wedding and honeymoon to a quick economic downturn, we've had a lot of discussions about how we can do a better job at reducing what we spend and saving more. The trouble has been when we've been faced with an unexpected car repair or dental bill, I get really upset that we've fallen off course.

My goal for the upcoming year is to keep on saving - accounting for unexpected expenses and adjusting accordingly to meet our savings goal by the end of 2009. I don't see this goal as limiting us at all - it is actually the best way to reward ourselves!

More exercise for us and our pets. We've learned so much about how the first four months of a pup's life are very important in determining her behavior for the next 10+ years. One of the many reasons this is important to us is we plan to only expand our family in the future. We want Libby to be a well-mannered adult dog around us, our family and friends.

One important way we've learned to ensure Libby does well is by incorporating daily walks into our routine and have found we and the dogs really enjoy it! It gives Bill and me time to talk about our days, work together to correct this new little one and get out and get some fresh air. I am looking forward to this next year for more walks like these, bike rides on the trail, time at the gym and even adventures to Staircase and other places we like to explore. When we can bring our pets on these adventures - even better!

Eat well. I want to make healthy food choices the majority of the time. Rather than eliminating carbs and desserts or restricting myself with a liquid diet or meals from a box, I want to ensure I'm eating balanced and healthy meals. It is similar to my finance goals - have a plan to stick to, but know there are times when I will spend more money (or calories) than I had planned. It doesn't mean I never again will eat apple curry or tiramisu, but that I either find ways to make these foods healthier or just ensure these types of foods are eaten rarely or minimally.

Cook more. Kinda relates to above, but not necessarily. I love to cook, but I don't always do it. For instance, I made dinner tonight and I realized it was the first time I'd cooked since we got our new puppy (I realized this because she wouldn't get the HECK out of the kitchen)! Hello - that is really bad!

Inexpensive Fun. This ties back to the first item (funny how everything always relates to money somehow). Bill and I had talked about a Mexico vacation this spring with friends, but given our budget and the unknown future of the economy, that trip is postponed for now. While I would like us to have some opportunities to get away, I'd like to do so in ways don't take such a hit to our budget. I'd also like to find ways to do things on my own, with Bill or with friends, that aren't expensive: sewing projects, outdoor exercise adventures, day trips, craft projects, housework/yard work, visiting our friends outside of town in Western Washington we never seem to get to.

Support charities we're passionate about. As important as it has been to cut back financially, it doesn't have to mean giving up sharing what we do have. This Christmas it felt great to support the ALS Evergreen Chapter instead of buying a gift for Mom as I always did, support to the Adopt-A-Family and Area Agency on Agencies with gifts children and seniors really needed and to help out a family member toward their goal of purchasing hearing aids, rather than buying gifts for one another. This felt so much better than the traditional exchanging of gifts. I want to experience more of this in the upcoming year!

Scrub those toilets. Scrubbing toilets is right up there with vacuuming the stairs and Bill's fav - cleaning the shower. I end up putting this chore off until it needs it and frankly, that is just nasty. We've got three toilets in our house and as much as I wish we'd only use one so there would only be one to clean - it just isn't happening. My goal is to clean them regularly, so it won't have to be such an ordeal. Have I revealed to much? :-)

What are you planning for 2009? I know Jessica's is the "Year of the Gardener". (You had gone public with that, right, Jess?)

Thursday, January 1, 2009

About Me

Who am I?

I'm Courtney. I live with my best friend and husband, Bill and our sweet pea, baby daughter, Elyse. We have one crazy, bossy cat named Wilson who thinks he's a dog and loves to tangle with our young lab/border collie/bullmastiff mix pup named Libby. I'm a working Mama who enjoys her day job, but soaks up every moment I can get with my family.

I lost my Mom to ALS/Lou Gehrig's Disease June of 2007 - she was only 51. Her diagnosis and eventual passing have forever changed me. I'm passionate about finding ways to support our local ALS chapter and helping those going through a difficult time due to a terminal illness or facing the loss of a loved one.

I've enjoyed learning to sew on my mother's sewing machine. I like long power-walks with my girlfriends. I adore watching my daughter grow, breathing in her sweet smell and melting when she smiles at me. I love photography and just about every night my nose is in a book or manual learning more about my camera and photography concepts. I love our home. I love to cook and entertain. I love to organize and de-clutter. I enjoy decorating, particularly when on a small budget or DIY.
One last thing. I've really enjoyed figuring out this blogging thing. It is fun.

Smoked Turkey - Traeger Style

I got Bill a Traeger grill for his 40th birthday. It is a pellet grill that smokes, barbecues, grills and bakes. This is an excellent recipe for very moist turkey!

Spread Traeger poultry rub (or your favorite seasoning) between skin and breast meat.

Coat the bird in olive oil.

Cover top of bird with one pound of bacon (whole slices).

Put on Traeger on medium heat until internal temperature is 170 - 180 degrees. For a 22-pound turkey, it will take approximately seven to eight hours.

After reaching optimal temperature, tent turkey in aluminum foil for 35-40 minutes to allow juices to redistribute.

Sour Cream Apple Pie with Streusel Topping

I wanted to make an apple pie this year, but I'm always looking for something a little different. This is a first for this recipe, so I'll let you know what everyone thinks!

1 cup sour cream
2/3 cup sugar
2 Tablespoons flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 egg
3 cups peeled, sliced tart apples (about 1 1/4 pounds of slices)
1 9" unbaked pie shell, frozen or chilled in the freezer for at least 30 minutes (see pâte brisée recipe)

1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
1/3 cup flour
1/4 cup butter, room temperature
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
Mix together all ingredients until the mixture resembes coarse crumbs.

Preheat oven to 400°F.

Beat together sour cream, sugar, flour, salt, vanilla and egg (can beat by hand). Add apples, mixing carefully to coat well.

Put filling into a pie shell and bake at 400 degrees initially for 25 min.

Remove from oven and sprinkle with Cinnamon Crumb Topping. Bake for and additional 20 more minutes.

Let cool for a hour before serving. Serves 8.

Trader Joe's Green Bean Casserole

I have made this a few years now and everyone comments on it. It is not too far off from the original, but with a better taste as you use mostly fresh ingredients instead of the canned soup. I double the recipe on the back of the can of onions - you need leftovers for Thanksgiving for sure!

12 T (¾ c) butter
2 medium onions
2 lbs mushrooms, quartered
4 t coarse salt
1 t pepper
2 24 oz bag TJ’s frozen French green beans
¾ c flour
4 c milk
2 cans 8 oz TJ’s Gourmet Fried Onion pieces

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In your largest skillet over medium heat, melt 4 T butter. Add onion and sauté until begins to soften, about four minutes. Add mushrooms and cook until softened. Season with 2 t salt and ½ t pepper and set aside to cool.

Cook green beans according to directions on bag. If you buy Trader Joe's green beans there are no directions. Just boil water and cook beans until cooked through. Pour beans into strainer and set aside.

Melt remaining butter in a medium saucepan over medium low heat. Add flour, whisking constantly until mixture begins to turn golden, about two minutes. Pour in milk and continue whisking until mixture has thickened, about three minutes. Stir in remaining salt and pepper. Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature, stirring occasionally. Pour over beans and toss to combine with onion/mushroom mixture.

Butter a 9x13 pan and add spread out casserole mixture.

Bake casserole, covered, until mixture is bubbly and heated through – about ten minutes. Uncover and cook until top is golden brown about 30 seconds. Sprinkle Trader Joe’s onion pieces over top and serve.

Apple Cranberry Stuffing

Grandma or Mom have always made two separate stuffings (one without celery for me), but now I just do my own version that is a little bit different - and celery free of course! It is easy enough to add if you like it though - just add two stalks chopped celery.

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more for the pan
1 pound sliced country white sandwich bread
1 large cooking apple, i.e., Golden Delicious
1 medium onion
Handful fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
3/4 cup dried cranberries
2 to 3 sprigs fresh or dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
Pinch fennel seeds
3 cups chicken broth (about 1 1/2 small cans)
1 large egg
2 tablespoons turkey or chicken pan drippings or melted butter

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Butter a shallow 3-quart casserole.
Cut or tear bread into bite-size pieces. Lay bread pieces in a single layer on 1 or 2 baking sheets. Bake until slightly dry and crisp, about 15 to 20 minutes. Cool.
Peel, core, and coarsely chop the apple. Coarsely chop the onion and parsley.
Melt the 6 tablespoons butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the apple, onion, cranberries, thyme, salt, and fennel seeds; cook until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the broth and parsley and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat.
Beat the egg in a large bowl. Add the toasted bread and the onion and fruit mixture; toss until evenly moistened. Loosely pack the dressing into the prepared pan. Bake, uncovered, until the top is crusty, about 40 minutes. Drizzle the pan drippings or melted butter over the top. Cook until the top is crisp and golden, about 20 minutes more.

Upgrades or Make it your Own:
Cook pork sausage until brown and crispy in the skillet. Remove to a plate and cook vegetables and fruit in the residual fat. Stir sausage into stuffing just before baking.

Pregnancy and Baby

Sharing the News and More
Baby's Heartbeat

Cloth Diapers - Why We Chose to Do It
Cloth Diapers - How it is Going

Our Nursery - as featured on and

Week 13
Week 15
Week 17: Update and Flea Market Finds for Nursery
Week 18
Week 19: Update and It's a Girl!
Week 20: Update and Pics of Baby and Me
Week 21: Update and CA Girls Trip
Week 22: Update and College Visit
Week 23: Update and Nursery Progress
Week 24: Update and Nursery Furniture, New Belly Pic & Registry Info
Week 26: Update and Nursery Additions
Week 28: Update and New Belly Pic
Week 31: Gestational Diabetes and Ligament Pain, Oh My!
Week 33: Belly!
Week 34: Handmade Owl Mobile for Nursery
Week 34: Swelling!
Week 35: Classes Done
Week 35: Nursery: Chair and Ottoman Complete!
Week 36: 36 Week Ultrasound
Week 36: Burp Cloths, Laundry and other Nesting...
Week 37: Nursery Reveal and Post on WithTwoCats
Week 38: Belly Progress
Week 39: Belly Progress
Week 40: The Final Belly - We Made It!

Birth Story - Part One
Birth Story - Part Two

One Week Old
Two Weeks
Three Weeks
Four Weeks
Five Weeks
Six Weeks
Seven Weeks
Eight Weeks
Ten Weeks
THREE MONTHS (or 13 weeks)
Sixteen Weeks - Going back to work
Nineteen Weeks - Sick for the first time (more here)
Twenty Four Weeks - Starting Solids
SIX MONTHS - the half-year mark
Twenty Six Weeks - Babies and Their Dogs

My Recipes


Sour Cream Pancakes - A healthier version of the Pioneer Woman's. These are our favorite!


Jessica's Autumn Punch - I don't even normally like wine, but this... this is so good!

Marcie's Cowboy Caviar - This is a great recipe for parties or potlucks!

Monte Cristo Pockets - So easy, you don't really need a recipe.

Sweet and Savory Cheese Ball - One word. YUM. Perfect for your next party.

Caramel Corn - Perfect to make and share when Fall arrives!


Smoked Turkey - Traeger Style - If you have a Traeger, you've got to smoke a turkey!

Mama's Potluck Chicken Casserole - If this isn't comfort food, I don't know what is! Thank you, Mom!

Anna's Potato Tacos - these are very good!

Chicken and Dumplings - one of Bill (and Elyse's) favorite meals. So good!

Chicken Parmesan - So simple and super fantastic. Love this dish. Family and company friendly.

White Chicken Enchiladas - Chicken enchiladas in a creamy sour cream and green chili sauce. No canned soup here, but still very easy. Super good!

Turkey Cranberry Wreath - This is a family favorite. You can't have the day after Thanksgiving without it!


Apple-Cranberry Stuffing - my favorite stuffing!

Cranberry Sauce - nothing like homemade cranberry sauce.

Trader Joe's Green Bean Casserole - similar to traditional, but with more homemade taste.

Deliciously, Creamy Mashed Potatoes - Traditionally good Thanksgiving mashed potatoes.

Cottage Mashed Potatoes - the most delectable potatoes ever. My fav. No gravy necessary.

Anna's Pico de Gallo - so good, so fresh!

Bill's Baked Beans - perfect with ribs and coleslaw.

Beverley's Creamed Corn - I used to despise this dish, until I tried this version. Cheesey corn with a kick. You must try it today!

Marcie's Pasta Salad - simple, but good!

Mexican Corn Salad - our favorite side dish, hands down!


Bacon, Cheese & Egg Biscuit Cups - great to freeze to give to someone with no time to cook!


Courtney's Cookies - the long awaited to-die-for mall cookie recipe. You'll never go back!

Cranberry Bliss Bars - these are a hit every Christmas! I make at least six pans a year!

Wild Iris Inn Cookies - cookies with so many good mix-ins in every bite! A lot of work, but worth it!

Bakerella's Cupcake Bites - so fun, so cute and always a hit! You must try them!

Sour Cream Apple Pie with Streusel Topping - apple pie with a twist.

Not-So-Sinful Pumpkin Pie Bars - the secret to getting through the desserts during the holidays... sneaking in a healthier option!

Deana's Black Forest Dump Cake - "Dump Cakes" not your thing? Well, I'm normally no fan of cake mix recipes, but this one is an exception!

Kathy's Peanut Butter Cookies - These are my Mom's tried-and-true PB cookies loved by many!


Homemade Laundry Detergent - Super cheap and not too sudsy, so safe for front-loaders.


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