Free Giveaway – Small Bites Cookbook

Small Bites cookbook by Eliza Cross

 

Today is Launch Day for my newest cookbook, Small Bites!

This book was a joy to develop and write, because appetizers are my favorite. I especially love hors d’oeuvres that feature great flavors and fresh ingredients in just a bite or two.

The 75 easy recipes in this book include skewers, sliders and bite-sized snacks. They all have elements that can be prepared in advance so that you can have fun with your guests during the party, instead of being stuck fussing in the kitchen.

More and more, I find myself preparing a selection of appetizers for gatherings instead of dinner. The hors do’oeuvres in Small Bites are as good to look at as they are to eat, and your guests will know that you made an extra effort to prepare something special.

I can’t wait to share Small Bites with you! Thanks to my wonderful publisher Gibbs Smith, I have a special signed copy to give to one lucky reader.

But first let’s take a peek at some of the pages, which were so beautifully photographed by Jessica Nicosia-Nadler.

 

These are bite-sized Baby Eggplant Parmigiana:

 

Baby Eggplant Parmigiana

 

Crispy, cheesy Artichoke Cheese Wontons:

 

Artichoke Cheese Wontons

 

Prosciutto, Pear, Fig and Brie Toasts:

 

Prosciutto, Pear, Fig and Brie Toasts

 

Smoked Salmon Cucumber Rounds with Lemon Dill Cream:

 

Smoked Salmon Cucumber Rounds

 

Mini New Orleans-style Muffuletta Sandwiches:

 

Mini Muffuletta Sandwiches

 

Deconstructed Bacon Jalapeno Poppers:

 

Bacon Jalapeno Poppers

 

Mini Kobe Beef Sliders – plus a recipe so you can make your own fresh slider rolls!

 

Mini Kobe Beef Sliders

 

Baby Mexican Tostadas:

 

Baby Mexican Tostadas

 

Mini Crab Cakes with Mango Chile Salsa:

 

Mini Crab Cakes

 

Small Bites: Skewers, Sliders, and Other Party Eats is a 128-page hardback book that retails for $14.99, and you could win your very own signed copy. Simply answer this question in the Comments section at the bottom of the page on this post:

 

What happy occasion would you like to celebrate?

Perhaps you have a loved one’s birthday or holiday coming up, or maybe you’d love to throw an impromptu weekday gathering with your best friends. Anything goes!

Be sure to include your e-mail address on the form when you post your comment (it won’t show to anyone but me). The giveaway is open to anyone with a shipping address in the U.S. and Canada, and you can enter between now and midnight MST on Friday, August 25.

Hugs and good luck,

Finding What I Lost in the Classified Ads

Me, my mom and sister at Chautauqua Park in Boulder, After.

 

I can divide my adolescence in two parts—Before and After.

The break happened when I was thirteen, on what began as a normal day. I was at a girlfriend’s house when my mom called and asked me to come home. Opening the front door I discovered Dad on the couch crying, a suitcase at his feet.

He explained that he was going to go live at a friend’s cabin for a while. He and Mom were having a tough time, and they had decided it would be best if he moved out. My baby sister was napping, and as he went in her room to kiss her goodbye I tried to absorb the shocking news. Crying openly, Dad pulled Mom and me into a long hug and then he was gone.

I realize now that I was probably experiencing depression in the months that followed. I tried to be good and responsible and help my mom, but I cried every night and wondered if I would ever stop feeling so sad.

A turning point came when the Johnny Nash song “I Can See Clearly Now” started playing on the radio. “Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind…”  Oh, how I longed for that feeling. I prayed for a rainbow, I really did. And soon a day went by without tears, and then two days, and eventually the ache started to lessen.

 

sun behind the clouds

 

Years later, a good counselor and a caring pastor would help me work through my angsty “After” years of high school when my main focus was hanging out with friends, partying, just getting by in school, and looking for love in all the wrong places. Once I got married and experienced my own troubles, I was able to better understand and empathize with my parents’ separation and divorce.

For all the time I spent sorting out what happened during the years After, though, I hadn’t really thought much about the girl I was Before.

Until now.

Last month, a classified ad on NextDoor.com caught my eye. A neighbor was selling a used clarinet—the instrument I had played in junior high, but quit in the months After. One phone call and twenty dollars later, the pretty clarinet in a black velvet-lined case was mine.

 

clarinet

 

That night I assembled the clarinet, lifted it to my lips and tried the easiest note—an open G. I wish I could tell you that the tone was clear and true. But the truth is that the first sound I made on my new clarinet was a piercing squeak that awakened our dog Boo with a confused growl.

 

What the?

 

Unlike getting back on a bicycle, I had to relearn all the keys and retrain my mouth to form the proper embouchure. Our junior high band teacher John A. Whitehurst was right:  playing the clarinet properly requires hours and hours of practice.

Something else surprising happened in the taking up of this new-old instrument. Returning to the clarinet brought back a flood of memories about the curious, unselfconscious girl I was Before.

I’d forgotten that in the years Before, my friends and I formed a musical group and performed in a local talent show.

 

Stars of Tomorrow Boulder 1970

 

Before, I marched in a parade downtown as I played my clarinet. I was in a folk dancing group, and twirled onstage to polka songs.

Before, I bought a ten-speed bike with my babysitting money and rode it all over Boulder. I sewed my own peasant blouses, crafted chokers from grosgrain ribbon and lace, and embroidered flowers on my jeans.

Before, I stood up and sang for the residents of a nursing home. I entered speech competitions, voluntarily!

Before, I tried out for the lead in the school play and was cast instead as the grandma, which required me to draw wrinkles on my face and whiten my hair with talcum powder.

 

Gray hair

 

In the After days, all I wanted to do was fit in. I didn’t venture on a single stage during high school.

Looking back, I marvel at how fearless I was Before. I also realize that those long-dormant interests are still part of who I am, four decades later. And the courage? It must still be there somewhere, too.

So recently I joined Toastmasters, where I stand up and give speeches and enjoy the thrill of doing something that scares the heck out of me.

And every night after dinner, I take out my clarinet.

 

Eliza Cross playing the clarinet

 

The notes come slow.

The squeaks come sometimes, too.

The dog howls.

But I play, and honor the girl I was Before.

I play, and offer melodies for the girl I was After.

I play and send up an old song about a bright, bright, sun-shiny day, so grateful for the loves and losses and mistakes and mercy and dark clouds and sunny days and hills and valleys and every breathtaking moment of grace, Before and After, that shaped my life and brought me here to Right Now.

And straight ahead?

There’s nothing but blue skies, my friends.

How About You?

Was there a time in your youth when you tried something that now seems fearless? Did you enjoy an activity years ago that you would like to try again? Have you recently returned to a former hobby or sport?

Is there a song, literal or figurative, that you long to play?

I’d love to hear your thoughts and memories.

Hugs,

The signature for Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross and her Dad

Dancing with my Dad, Before. If you look closely, you can see my shoes on top of his.

 

Enter this Giveaway to Win a New Gardening Journal

Garden journal

Yesterday I posted about how writing in a gardening journal helps me keep track of plant and seed ideas, frost dates, tasks to be done, and so much more.

If you’d like a place to record your gardening thoughts, you could win the new gardening journal pictured above. This pretty volume is 8 1/2 by 11 inches, 96 pages, and includes a monthly planning checklist, a garden planning grid, a plant and seed shopping list, monthly to dos, plant record pages, and more.

You have three ways to enter:

  1. Subscribe to Happy Simple Living, and these posts will be delivered to your inBox. (It’s free and we will never, ever, ever share your e-mail address.) Then leave a comment at the bottom of this page that says “I subscribed!”
  2. Follow our Instagram account and leave a comment on the giveaway page. BONUS entry: In your comment, share the Instagram user name of another garden-loving friend who might be interested in the giveaway. If one of you wins, we’ll give you both a journal!
  3. Follow our Twitter account and post the tweet below. (You can post the tweet up to once per day, and each tweet will constitute another entry.)

Enter this #giveaway to win a new #gardening journal from @HappySimpleLivn: http://bit.ly/2twXuZG  pic.twitter.com/sa6guWFiVj

That’s it! The giveaway is open to all readers through midnight MST on July 31, 2017, and I’ll choose a winner from all qualifying entries using Random.org on August 1.

Hugs and good luck!

The signature for Eliza Cross

 

7 Things I’ve Been Writing In My Garden Journal

Gardening journal

 

Dear friends,

It’s been a funny growing season in our Colorado garden this year. We had a snowy spring, a particularly late hard frost, two serious hail storms, and six weeks of mostly hot, dry days. This year I’ve discovered which plants in our yard and garden are truly hardy.

Because every growing season is unpredictable, I love jotting notes in a garden journal. My notes help me remember so many gardening details I might otherwise forget, and I find it helpful keep all my various gardening experiences and ideas in one place.

Here are some of the things I like to track:

1. Notes on plants and seeds I want to try.

“Now that the four o’clocks are established, I’d like to plant another late-in-the-day bloomer in the side garden like moonflower, evening primrose or flowering tobacco.”

2. Important dates, like the first and last frosts and when various bugs arrive.

“Good thing we didn’t plant on Mother’s Day 2017. We had wet, heavy snow on May 19, and below-freezing temperatures the nights of May 18 – 20. Lost most of the lilac, cherry and redbud blossoms, but otherwise okay.”

3. Sketches of garden layouts and planting ideas. Here’s an example:

 

gardening journal

 

4. Combinations of plants for containers.

“Sweet potato vine looks so pretty with hot pink petunias and deep blue lobelia.”

5. The places where I want to remember to plant bulbs this fall.

“The daffodils under the mail box haven’t come up for the past two years. Dig down and see if the bulbs need dividing? Add bone meal to the soil? Or maybe try a later variety like Golden Ducat or Gigantic Star.”

6. Dates when I have the trees and shrubs maintained.

“Had the locust tree pruned this June. Josh says it won’t need attention again for five years. Cherry trees need to be trimmed next year.”

7. Flowers that are doing well in other gardens in our neighborhood, and the dates I see them blooming.

“Salvia and bluebells seem to be thriving in the neighbor’s garden first week of July, despite the heat.” 

How About You?

Do you keep a gardening journal or record of some kind? What kinds of things do you write about? How has the most recent gardening season been for you?

Giveaway Alert!

If you’ve always wanted to write about your gardening experiences, check back tomorrow when I’ll be giving away a brand new copy of a special garden journal to one lucky reader.

Hugs and happy digging,

The signature for Eliza Cross

Facing My Worst Self in the Grocery Line

cow backside

Photo: Andrew Storms

Every few weeks, I drive to my local Sprouts store and buy a couple bags of organic Guatemalan coffee. They have a machine where you can grind the roasted beans on the spot, and the coffee is soooo good.

This particular Sprouts store is a rather, shall we say, relaxed establishment where long lines are part of the experience. Last Thursday at 5 p.m., three cashiers were open and the lines of people stretched all the way back to the produce department.

As I eyed the three lines to figure out which would move quickest, a man veered his cart decisively to the right so I defaulted to the center, nearly cutting off another woman. She slid her cart in close behind me, and I could feel her daggers.

The people waiting all wore similar expressions of resignation, like you might see in the faces of cows standing in a dank feed lot. I counted the people in my line: 11. Then I looked over at the speedy gentleman to the right and counted only ten people ahead of him. So unfair! I thought to myself. I was totally planning to get in that line until he cut me off.

 

cows in feed lot

Photo: Randy Heinitz

 

I stood with my two little bags of coffee and inwardly groaned at the overstuffed carts ahead of me. Who are you people, camp cooks? I wondered. Preppers stocking up for the apocalypse?

Our cashier appeared to be an affable young man who was now chatting with the customer at the front of the line. C’mon, enough with the talking!  I implored him with my strongest ESP vibes.  Scan and talk at the same time! Let’s mooooooooove!

 

cow trampoline

 

To my right, Mr. Speedy’s cashier had stopped scanning. “Price check on register eight,” he announced. Oh YES. I brightened up considerably. Now Speedy’s line is slower than mine. Na, na, na, na, NA, na! 

Suddenly I had one of those out-of-body experiences where my better consciousness intervenes and slaps me upside the head. What are you thinking? it demanded. What’s with this ugly spirit of competitiveness? Why are you feeling glee because your fellow human is delayed?

 

cow and horse

 

Before I could answer those questions, I saw movement from the corner of my eye. A green-shirted Sprouts employee had appeared and was now fiddling around at the next cash register. He didn’t look at us as he carefully straightened the bags, meticulously sprayed the conveyor belt with cleaner, and counted every bill and coin in the cash drawer. And then…yes? No? Wait for it…

He flicked on the lane light, and a mass exodus occurred. The dagger woman behind me was first in line. Dust rose in the air and the new line was ten people deep in 15 seconds. None of us patient, longsuffering cattle had been nimble enough to migrate. Even worse, our bagging clerk moved over to the new line. So unfair!

Dagger’s eyes met mine as she paid for her groceries. “Hasta la vista, sucker,” she seemed to say before waltzing out of the store.

 

bye felicia cow

 

I took a deep breath, and tried to remember all the things I’ve read about acceptance and letting go. Inhale peace, exhale stress.

I pictured Jerry Seinfeld’s dad yelling, “Serenity now!” What is it about being in a crowded grocery store that brings out my most primitive instincts? My default mode seems to be:

  • I am in a hurry. Even if I’m not on any particular schedule, I’m still in a hurry.
  • Waiting is a big waste of  valuable time.
  • Lines should be fair and democratic!
  • Cashiers should be efficient and know all the grocery codes, even for starfruit and Swiss Chard.
  • Our bagger must never defect to another line!
  • When it’s my turn, I like it when the cashier is friendly.
  • Success = making better time than my fellow shoppers.

I took more deep breaths and sent up some lame, shallow prayers. After several more minutes of jockeying, it was finally my turn.

“Your coffee smells good,” the cashier said as he scanned.

“I love Sprouts coffee.”

“It’s the best.” He smiled and nodded at me. “You need to press the green ‘Enter’ button and click ‘Yes.'”

“Oh, sorry. All of these machines are different.”

“I know, right? Why can’t they standardize card readers?”

“Exactly!” I smiled and gazed back at the dozen people scowling in line behind me. I swear to you, I could hear words like “HURRY UP, LADY” and “MOVE IT!” floating around me.

 

angry cow

 

“You still need to sign the keypad.”

“Oh, sorry.”

As I headed toward the exit I noticed Mr. Speedy still in his line, peering at the card reader trying to figure out which button to push.

Cowabunga! I thought, as I skipped to my car like a happy heifer finally let out to pasture.

 

content cow

May your lines be short and your patience long in the days ahead.

Hugs,

The signature for Eliza Cross

P.S. For more bad behavior, you might also enjoy “Why Was I Speeding Up a Mountain Road?

 

For the Love of Good Quality

Krups coffeemaker

My coffee maker is 20 years old this week. I know this for a fact, because it was a wedding present two decades ago. I hope it doesn’t sound wrong to mention that the appliance has lasted twice as long as the marriage.

dented Krups coffee carafeBy my estimation, this Krups coffee maker has produced more than 24,000 cups of excellent coffee and it’s still going strong. I dropped and dented the stainless carafe when we moved, but it didn’t affect the performance so I kept using it.

Lasting quality is a thing to behold these days, isn’t it? When our computers need to be replaced every few years and we tear down buildings like football stadiums after just a few decades, it can begin to feel like old things don’t have much value.

Maybe it’s because I’m getting older, too, but I really appreciate owning something that is classic and durable.

I write a lot about saving money, but sometimes it makes sense to invest in craftsmanship and lasting quality.

Here are some things that come to mind:

  • Cast iron skillets
  • Handcrafted furniture
  • A hand-forged knife
  • Classic clothes
  • A KitchenAid mixer
  • Well-made tools
  • A Pendleton blanket
  • Cowboy boots

Another hallmark of a well-made product is great customer service from the maker. When the inner shell of my OtterBox phone case cracked, the company promptly sent me a free replacement. No questions asked. No warranty required. I didn’t have to package up the old case and return it. They simply trusted me.

Buy Me Once is a brilliant company that sells goods like appliances, kitchenware and clothing that are made to last. They don’t yet offer coffee makers, but that’s okay. When mine wears out, I’ll probably look for another Krups.

How About You?

What do you own that is exceptionally well-crafted and long lasting? Can you recommend any brands that offer top quality products and great customer service? I always love to hear your suggestions and thoughts.

Hugs,

The signature for Eliza Cross

Easy Blackberries and Cream Pinwheel Pastries Recipe

Blackberry pastry recipe

 

Berries cookbookThese pretty pastries, which are featured in my new cookbook Berries: Sweet and Savory Recipes, only look difficult to make. Flaky puff pastry pinwheels are anchored with a sweet, creamy filling and topped with blackberry jam, fresh berries, and a sprinkle of sparkling sugar.

They’re prepared from time-saving frozen puff pastry. You can easily thaw the pastry sheets by separating them and covering them with parchment or plastic wrap, and simply letting them sit out at room temperature for about half an hour. You want the pastry to be cold, but pliable.

Here’s the easy recipe:

Blackberry pastry

Blackberries ‘n’ Cream Pinwheels

  • 8 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 (17.3-ounce) package frozen puff pastry (2 sheets), thawed
  • 1/2 cup blackberry jam
  • 1 1/2 cups fresh blackberries or boysenberries
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • Sparkling sugar, for sprinkling

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, beat the cream cheese with an electric mixer on high speed until smooth. Add the sugar, lemon juice, lemon zest, and vanilla; beat until smooth then reserve.

On a lightly floured work surface, roll out each sheet of thawed puff pastry to a 10-inch square. Cut each square into 4 equal squares and transfer to the prepared baking sheets, leaving 2 inches between each square. Prick the pastry squares with a fork. Spoon 1 heaping tablespoon of the cream cheese mixture into the center of each square, spreading in a small circle about 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Spoon 1 tablespoon of the jam on top of the cream cheese mixture and top with 4 blackberries.

Use a sharp knife to make four diagonal cuts from the corners of each pastry square to within 1 inch of the center. Fold every other corner up over the filling to the center, overlapping the points and pinching to seal.

In a small bowl, whisk together the egg and water. Brush each pinwheel all over with the egg wash. Sprinkle the pastry with sparkling sugar. Bake until golden brown, 15 to 18 minutes. Cool on a wire rack for 5 to 10 minutes before serving. Makes 8 pastries.

Hugs,

The signature for Eliza Cross

Grateful thanks to photographer Stacey Cramp for shooting the beautiful pastry images, to Vanessa Seder for her lovely styling, and to publisher Gibbs Smith for permission to share the recipe. 

How to Attract Hummingbirds and Make Your Own Hummingbird Nectar

Hummingbird at feeder

Photo: S. Sompop

 

I always love hearing the thrilling, trilling sound of the first hummingbirds here in Colorado. According to Audubon, hummingbirds beat their strong, tiny wings 90 times per second. Their energetic metabolisms burn up calories fast, which is why they typically eat half of their weight in bugs and nectar every day and visit 1,000 to 2,000 flowers a day.

We hang a feeder in the shade garden, and if we’re quiet we can watch the hummers stop by for a drink throughout the summer. The stores  have commercial hummingbird nectar on the shelves right now, but a quick look at the ingredients list reveals that the mixture is mostly water and sugar enhanced with red dye #40 and chemical preservatives.

 

Hummingbird nectar

 

Instead, make your own hummingbird nectar. It’s easy and inexpensive, and all you need is water and refined sugar. According to Audubon, “Plain white table sugar is sucrose, which, when mixed with water, very closely mimics the chemical composition of natural nectar.”

I was tempted to make homemade nectar with a healthier ingredient than refined sugar — honey or raw sugar, for instance. But Audubon says NO — plain ole’ refined sugar is best since raw and organic sugars contain higher levels of iron that could be harmful to the birds, and honey can promote “dangerous fungal growth.” Goodness knows I always try to avoid that.

You don’t need to add red food coloring, either. Just use a brightly colored feeder to attract the hummers. Here’s how to make a batch of nectar, and you can increase the quantities depending on how much you need:

Hummingbird Nectar Recipe

1 cup water

1/4 cup refined white sugar

In a small saucepan over high heat, bring the water to a rolling boil. Add the sugar and cook, stirring, until sugar is completely dissolved. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature before filling feeder. Change nectar weekly.

 

Hummingbird

Photo: Monkeystyle3000

 

Flowers Hummingbirds Like

You can also attract hummingbirds to your garden or yard by planting nectar-rich flowers.

Look for blossoms in bright colors, which are more attractive to hummingbirds than light pastel hues. Tubular-shaped flowers tend to contain more nectar. Here are some varieties that are especially attractive to hummers:

Perennials:

  • Bee balms
  • Columbines
  • Coneflowers
  • Daylilies
  • Delphiniums
  • Lupines
  • Salvia

Biennials:

  • Foxgloves
  • Hollyhocks

Annuals:

  • Cleomes
  • Impatiens
  • Petunias
  • Zinnias

 

Hummingbird at feeder

 

How About You?

Does your garden attract hummingbirds? Do you have a feeder? Do you grow any special flowers in your garden that the hummers especially like?

If you want to take a deeper dive with hummingbird watching, check out Audubon’s Hummingbirds at Home website and app where you can sign up to share your own sightings and observations.

Hugs,

The signature for Eliza Cross

The Photos I Didn’t Post on Instagram This Week

Instagram Eliza Cross

 

I love looking at everyone’s pretty pictures on Instagram. When I scroll through the feed, it’s like a little vacation for my soul. And when I look back through the collection of images I’ve posted, it’s like viewing a scrapbook of memories and lovely sights.

Instagram isn’t a reflection of my real life, though — not by a long shot. If I were posting the bad and ugly along with the good, I’d have shared this image:

 

kitchen drain repair

Real life.

 

Last week we discovered that the drain line from our kitchen sink cracked at some unknown time, and had been slowly leaking water in the basement wall. Getting it repaired wasn’t pretty… or cheap.

We couldn’t use our kitchen sink for four days. So I didn’t make homemade pizza like I’d shared on this previous Instagram post:

 

homemade pizza

 

Instead, real life led to pizza delivery because the kitchen was torn up and the plumber was here working late on Saturday night.

 

pizza delivery

Real life.

 

I love taking pictures in the garden, and occasionally I see a sight like these lovely Forget-me-nots:

 

forget me not

 

But do not be fooled into thinking that this snapshot is an accurate representation of our garden, my friends.

If I’m being real, I need to share some photos of the bug infestation I’m currently dealing with.

 

Black Cherry Aphid

Real life.

 

I believe this is Cherry Blackfly, an aphid that sucks the sap from cherry tree leaves in the spring. Ladybugs eat the aphids, so maybe next year I’ll try introducing some of the lucky bugs to the emerging leaves early in the season.

Interestingly, the wasps in our garden have also been eating the aphids. I tend to think of wasps as pests, so I’m reminded that nature has its own self-sustaining balance. At this stage of the growing season, the only remedy is to cut off and discard the damage — and who doesn’t love snipping sticky leaves covered with thousands of black bugs?

This is our dear dog Maddie. She is 16 or 17 years old, and I love this recent photo showing her sweet face and glorious white whiskers.

 

Australian cattle dog mix

 

This spry senior is starting to have a lot of accidents, though. Our wonderful vet has been running tests and trying different drugs, hoping for a miracle cure. The grass around our patio is not looking pretty, but I don’t care because she’s doing her best to get outside quickly.

 

Real life.

 

I’m reminded that the things we post on social media are usually the prettiest sights and our best selves, and not a true representation of anyone’s reality.

Did you know that Instagram has some real-life hash tags. including #bummer, #expensiverepair, #aphids, and #uglylawn?

If you want a real treat, be sure to check out #olddogsrule.

Hugs,

The signature for Eliza Cross