Boudin Seasonal Salads (and a Giveaway)

Have you tried the spring seasonal salads at Boudin yet? If not, you better hurry because the salads will only be available until the end of the month. Hand-crafted with fresh seasonal ingredients, the three seasonal salads pack quite a flavorful punch.

Boudin SF in Huntington Beach

My family and I had the opportunity to try this season’s salads during a media preview a while back. At each presentation of the carefully plated salads, my mouth watered with delight. The salads were perfectly paired with either a Sonoma Coast 2013 Pinot Noir from La Crema or a 2013 Vintner’s Reserve Chardonnay from Kendall-Jackson®. Wine with salad? Yes, please!

It was difficult to pick a favorite since they were all so delicious. The Mango & Red Quinoa salad was a culmination of many favorite salad ingredients like the supergrain quinoa, arugula, almonds, and goat cheese. Also included in the salad are Romaine lettuce, red grapes, and red onions. Of course, the addition of mangoes endeared this salad to me instantly. I love mangoes. I usually buy them by the box. Week after week, my family goes through boxes of this tasty fruit.

Boudin's mango and red quinoa salad
Mango & Red Quinoa Salad

I was giddy with anticipation when the Bacon, Blue & Beets Salad was presented. First of all, it had bacon. Bacon. Enough said. After Expo West, I was in love with beets. I couldn’t get enough of it. The combination of the two in a salad was a perfect union for me; and with the addition of blue cheese, it was an explosion of flavors in my mouth. Okay, I admit, I do love salad. All you have to do is look at my Instagram feed to see that I am a fan of salads. This particular salad had spring mix greens, chicken, red onion, red and golden beets, green beans, applewood smoked bacon, blue cheese, and spiced walnuts. That is one hearty salad.

Boudin Bacon blue and beets salad
Bacon, Blue & Beets Salad

The last of the spring salads introduced was the Forbidden Rice & Chicken Sesame salad. It contained baby spinach, black rice, chicken, Granny Smith apples, garbanzo beans, pickled red onion, and goat cheese. Similar to the Mango & Red Quinoa Salad, this salad is topped with a house-made dressing.

Boudin spring season salads
Forbidden Rice & Chicken Sesame (bottom)

All three salads boasted of tremendous flavor with limited calories. The three salads are all under 500 calories each, with the Mango & Red Quinoa Salad topping the list with just 287 calories. Are the salads filling? Yes, well, at least they were very filling to me. I would probably order at least two of the three and share with someone the next time I go back. It’s just more fun that way.

Visit the Boudin website to learn more about the seasonal salads. You can connect with Boudin SF on Facebook and Twitter.

Disclosure: I was compensated for this post. All opinions expressed are my own.

Giveaway time

One lucky Just Another Hat reader will win a $20 gift card to Boudin. Enter using the Giveaway Tools form below. Giveaway is open until June 16, 2016 at 11:59 PM PST to US residents, 18 years and older. For complete rules on giveaways hosted on this blog, visit my Giveaway Rules & Policy.

Good luck!

Saving on Organics and Groceries at ALDI

This post was sponsored by ALDI as part of Influencer Activation for Influence Central.

aldi food market anaheim

In an effort to save money on groceries, I do the typical things: buy items when they are on sale, use coupons, buy in bulk, and buy seasonal items. Last year, I started reading that ALDI stores will be coming to the west coast. I knew only a little about ALDI from the few news articles I read and knew that it was a no-nonsense grocer that had great prices, saving its customers up to 50%* on grocery bills. I recently visited an ALDI in Anaheim, one of 10 new stores that opened in SoCal in early April.

As someone who consistently strives to feed my family fresh, high-quality, (and if budget permits) organic foods, I found ALDI quite a competitor compared to other groceries I shop at. Although the organic produce section was smaller than other grocers, the price point was definitely lower. During this particular shopping trip, I purchased organic strawberries for $2.99 a pound, its regular price. I’ve only paid that much at other grocers when organic strawberries were on sale. I also grabbed a bag of organic Fuji apples for $3.99 a bag; again, quite a bargain. Given that EWG puts these two fruits at the top of the Dirty Dozen list, I make an effort to buy these fruits organic.

aldi produce aisle and organic produce

One thing that customers will find at ALDI is the focus on selling exclusive brands. In fact, about 90% of the groceries sold are under its own premium exclusive brands. Now, many shoppers who may not know that may find unrecognizable brands a turn-off. However, since most of the items I buy anyway are not the typical nationally recognized brands, I had no problem with that at all. In my experience, store brands are cheaper compared to national brands and the quality is comparable.

Below were some of my favorite finds at ALDI. I found one Barissimo Fair Trade Ground Coffee in the coffee section. I am hoping that the grocery chain adds more Fair Trade products to its shelves in support of this philosophy. The frozen Sea Queen WildCaught Salmon that sold for $3.79 a pack was the best price I have seen for wild-caught salmon, even compared to big wholesale stores. There was also a whole section dedicated to gluten-free products. Similar to organic products offered, gluten-free products were competitively priced.

aldi specialty products

In my quest to scout as many organic items as I could, I was thrilled to find SimplyNature® Organic Eggs and SimplyNature® Organic 100% Grass Fed Ground Beef. Both of these items were priced below what I would have paid for at other stores. Whether in the dairy section, produce department, or grocery aisles, it was easy to find organic products all throughout the store.

ALDI quick facts

  • 25 stores currently opened in California
  • Exclusive brands include: SimplyNature® (organic and non-GMO verified products), liveGfree® (gluten-free products), NeverAny! (products that are free from added antibiotics, hormones and animal by-products)
  • Customers deposit (refundable) $0.25 to use shopping cart
  • Encourage customers to bring own bag, but can buy plastic or paper grocery bags at the store
  • Customers can bag own groceries at a counter

aldi unique store features shopping cart pay per bag

ALDI focuses on providing fresh, natural products at affordable and competitive prices to its customers. My first shopping experience at ALDI was very positive. I went early in the morning, and without kids (yay!), so I definitely took my time to go up and down the aisles, read labels, and check out all that ALDI has to offer. My savings on pantry staples and organic items were noticeable in the receipt. As more stores are planned to open in California in 2016, I’m hoping that one will open closer to me.

Below are some of the items I brought home with me. As you can see, my bagging technique needs a little work. Thank goodness I brought a lot of reusable bags with me.

aldi haul

Visit the ALDI website for more information on how you can save money and when new stores are set to open. You can connect with ALDI on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Disclosure: I was compensated for this post. All opinions expressed are my own.
*Based upon a price comparison of comparable products sold at leading national retail grocery stores.

Semi-homemade Cooking with Sprouts

Sprouts shopping cart

Sprouts is one of my go-to grocers. Not only because it’s close to my home, but because Sprouts offers brands that I feel reflect my philosophy for a better diet, nutrition, and overall lifestyle. I am working with Sprouts to promote the Better For You Brand Sale (#BetterForYouBrandSale). During this sale, Sprouts has amazing deals for the entire month of April.

On my last shopping trip at Sprouts, I picked up a few items that helped me create semi-homemade recipes for those times when I’m in a rush. Sometimes, I just don’t have the luxury of making a meal or a snack from scratch. It’s not just because I shuttle the kids to and from school and extracurricular activities, but I also volunteer for organizations, I am a MOPS leader, and I help take care of my aging parents. Even if I’m in a hurry, there’s no reason not to make something as healthy as I can possibly make it. That’s where Sprouts comes in.

I decided to experiment a little with one of the boys’ favorites: mac and cheese. In an effort to add more veggies to the kids’ diet, I decided to make mac and cheese veggie bites. The kids, and hubby, loved it. The recipe was simple and easy to execute. I pretty much just chopped whatever vegetables I had at hand with a mini processor and mixed them with the mac and cheese. I also added uncured bacon to add a layer of smoky flavor to the dish and topped with cheese.

mac and cheese veggie bites

I made the mac and cheese veggie bites as a side for dinner and leftovers kept well for the next day’s lunch. The mac and cheese veggie bites are perfect for school lunches or as a snack to take to the park or playdate. It’s bite sized so there’s no need for utensils, it’s compact so it doesn’t require much space, and it’s relatively mess-free. Additionally, every bite has macro and micronutrients that growing kids need.

mac and cheese bites for school lunch

Another quick semi-homemade recipe I experimented with was mini pull-apart monkey bread. For this, I bought the Immaculate Baking Company cinnamon roll and added cinnamon apples. Instead of making my own apple cinnamon, I simply added cinnamon to an apple snack and roughly chopped the apples into small pieces. I used the sauce in the snack pack and mixed that with the glaze that came with the cinnamon roll.

preparing cinnamon roll and icing

The kids devoured the monkey bread. I don’t know if it’s because they’ve never had it or because it was delicious. Either way, I’ve found a quick and simple recipe to make on the mornings when we don’t have a lot of time for breakfast.

pull apart monkey bread with omelette

Drinking their food is probably the quickest way to get fruits and vegetables into my kids. A yogurt smoothie with frozen berries and some fresh veggies certainly packs a nutritional punch. In a matter of 2 minutes, I can create a delicious and refreshing afternoon snack for the kids before we head out to the next thing.

berry smoothie

As for me, if time permits, I prefer to savor my smoothies in a smoothie bowl. Don’t let the appearance fool you, this smoothie bowl still took less time to make than homemade pancakes. It just looks like I spent time on it.

berry smoothie bowl with coconut chips granola hemp seeds

Healthy recipes don’t necessarily mean you have to spend a lot of resources. You can create delicious, nutritious meals, even when you don’t have a lot of time. Sprouts makes it easy for you to be healthy in a hurry with two simple recipes.

Check out Sprouts’ April Deals of the Month to see how you can save on your favorite brands. Additionally, each week Sprouts offers sales not on the monthly publication, so stop by to see what else you can get a deal on.

What are your favorite healthy recipes to make when you’re in a time crunch?

Simple Western Themed Party

western party ideas

As I mentioned before, I typically pick a theme for the boys’ birthday celebrations. The celebrations are not always lavish, sometimes it’s just dinner with the family. For Little B’s second birthday, we threw him a Western themed party.

I don’t know why I thought of it, but it was a fun little theme. As usual, I went online for inspiration. There is always the danger of going overboard since there is a plethora of ideas. However, given the time and budget constraints, simple was what I was going for.

Invitation

I wish I had something to show you, but I don’t. I was weeks from defending my dissertation and I had no time. I sent a text message out to those invited. Can’t get any simpler than that.

Decorations

Again, this was very simply done, understated even. I made pinwheels from paper I bought at Michael’s and hung them on the wall. The hardest part was choosing which paper to buy. There were so many cute ones available. I also bought a plastic banner from Amazon that was very much reflective of Western prints. Aside from these, I blew up red and blue balloons.

red white blue pinwheels

balloons and western banner

Table setting

In planning parties, I always try to repurpose or recycle something, not only to save money, but in an effort to be green. I purchased a plastic red and white checkered table cover at Party City. We used that table cover for three different parties before I finally threw it out because someone punctured holes in it. I then layered a brown craft paper which served as a runner. The craft paper was packaging paper I received in the mail with some product samples.

We have a bunch of small mason jars around the house, so I made sure to use those instead of buying new pieces. Some of them were used for the centerpieces. I covered the jar with burlap I saved from my sister’s wedding invitation and tied with fabric I bought from Hobby Lobby.

centerpiece

As for tableware, I bought pie tins for plates and used our white cloth napkins and silverware. The napkin holder is made of cloth: the same red fabric from the centerpiece and denim cut from Big B’s old torn jeans. Again, I used small glass jars as drinking glasses. The mustaches and Sheriff stars for the drinking glasses were created from my Silhouette. The blue fabric tied around the glass was leftover from one of my previous projects. The paper straws can be found pretty much anywhere.

tin plate, cloth napkin, silverware

Food and Beverage

We served very simple food to match everything else. In my mind I had a vision of cowboys sitting around a fire chatting while eating dinner out in the open. I tried to think about what they would have eaten that is kid-approved. I decided on grilled chicken and corn – not historically accurate, I’m sure. Since Little B was big on spaghetti at that time, I served his favorite. Lastly, I made homemade strawberry lemonade. One of the perks of living in Southern California is that we have access to fresh local strawberries year round. They’re not as sweet as when in season, but still fresh.

western themed party food

One of Little B’s favorite fruits is watermelon. Since his birthday was in the winter, fresh watermelon was not easy to find. I opted for the next best thing: a cake that looked like a watermelon. His cake was an ice cream cake I bought at Baskin Robins. There was no way I was making an ice cream cake. I suppose with a lot of research and experimentation, I could have. Again, time was not on my side.

watermelon cake

(Sort of) Party favor

You can’t have a Western themed party without cowboy hats. I think this was what sparked the whole Western theme to begin with. I saw a hat somewhere and decided I was going to center a party off of that. I bought the cowboy hats and bandanas on Amazon. The background for the favor table was tissue paper from a gift Big B received last year. No, I still don’t think I’m a hoarder (hahaha), just selective in what I save.

western hats and bandanas

There you have it. A simple Western themed party.

3 Basic Methods to Achieving an Eco-Friendly Bathroom

how to create an eco friendly bathroom

As Earth Day approaches, I wanted to share some tips on how to make your home a little more eco-friendly. There are three very basic ways to go green in your bathroom. Below are simple steps you can do, one at a time or all at once, to transform your space into an eco-friendly bathroom. These small changes not only help the environment, but can also save you some money in the long run.

MINIMIZE YOUR WATER USE

The first way to make your bathroom more eco-friendly is by reducing your water consumption. There are several ways to minimize water use:

    • Take shorter showers. Shorter showers means less water usage. Try using shower timers that limit your showers to five minutes. These timers adhere to shower walls and are available online. Alternatively, you can also listen to your favorite song to time your shower. Once the song is finished, so should your shower be.
    • Switch to a high-efficiency shower head to slow down water flow. Many companies manufacture a variety of styles of high-efficiency shower heads that can compliment your existing bathroom decor. From my experience, although water flow slows down, it doesn’t mean that the shower head lacks power or is diminished in performance.

shower head

    • Change your toilet to a low-flush or low-flow toilet for an eco-friendly bathroom. Approximately 76 gallons of water are flushed down the toilet per day per household.1 Low-flush toilet can reduce water usage by half depending on manufacturer. Additionally, some cities give residents a refund by installing these types of toilets. Check your city to see if you can get a refund by installing low-flow toilets in your bathrooms.

low flow toilet

  • Use aerators in your faucet. Similar to high-efficiency shower heads, aerators allow for reduced water output without giving up on performance.

CLEAN WITH GREEN

There are many, many choices in the market for household cleaners. A simple way to greenify your bathroom is by using products that are not only safe for you and your family, but also for the environment.

Bathroom cleaners

  • Use eco-friendly bathroom cleaners. Green cleaners are made with natural ingredients that are not toxic to humans or animals, unlike some conventional cleaners that emit toxic chemicals2. Additionally, some eco-friendly cleaners are manufactured in a more sustainable process than conventional cleaners are. Examples of eco-friendly cleaners include botanical disinfecting wipes, toilet bowl cleaners, and glass cleaner. You can also find DIY household cleaner recipes printed in books and online.
  • Ditch paper towels and opt for reusable cloth wipes and sponges instead. Paper products, including paper towels, comprised 15% of discarded trash in landfills.3 There are many types and brands of cloth wipes; some are made with cotton and wood-based pulp. Similar to cloth wipes, cloth sponges work well to clean surfaces, cleans streak free, and is incredibly absorbent.
  • Avoid using chemicals to clean your floor. Use a steam mop or a green mop to clean the floor instead. Neither require harsh chemicals to clean, just water.

ecloth mop on dirty floor

Personal products

      • Switch to eco-friendly shampoos, conditioners, body soap, and toothpaste that are SLS-free.
      • Use a natural sponge, loofah, or pumice to exfoliate. Although effective in removing the top layer of your skin, soap and body scrubs with microbeads are a danger to marine animals.4 However convenient these products are, there are other ways of sloughing off your cells by using products that are natural. Alternatively, you can make your own body scrub. There are many recipes online that use items already in your cupboard as ingredients for these DIY scrubs.

eco-friendly shampoo and body wash

    • Switch to bamboo toothbrushes that are made from more sustainable resources and are biodegradable.
    • Buy paper products that are chlorine-free, made from recycled paper, or made from bamboo. Paper manufacturers use up a lot of energy and produce toxic byproducts.5 Additionally, hundreds of thousands of trees are cut down a year to produce virgin toilet paper.6

recycled toilet paper

  • Another option is to start using family cloth. Family cloth are reusable toilet wipes. You can make them yourself or purchase from a retailer.

CHANGE THAT BULB

    • Change your bulbs to energy efficient lightbulbs that use about 25%-80% less energy and last longer than than traditional incandescents.7

_MG_9903

  • Next time you want to relax in the tub with candles, opt for candles made with beeswax or soy. Candles made with paraffin emit toxic chemicals that are harmful.8

There you have it. A list of small and big steps you can do to make your bathroom a little greener.

What steps have you taken to create an eco-friendly bathroom?

References
1Indoor Water Use in the United States
2Cleaning products and air fresheners: exposure to primary and secondary air pollutants
3Municipal Solid Waste Generation, Recycling, and Disposal in the United States: Facts and Figures for 2012
4Why Those Tiny Microbeads In Soap May Pose Problem For Great Lakes
5Chlorine-Free Paper
6A Shopper’s Guide to Home Tissue Products
7How Energy-Efficient Lightbulbs Compare with Traditional Incandescents
8Emission of air pollutants from burning candles with different composition in indoor environments

Whole Foods Market Opens in Irvine

I went to the media preview of the Irvine location of Whole Foods to take a sneak peek at what this new location has to offer. This location is the 41st store to open in Southern California. A distinguishing feature for this particular store is The Irv, a casual bar-restaurant which offers seasonal menu items. At The Irv, customers can feast on mouth-watering small plates, flat breads, salads, and entrées. Additionally, customers can select from one of 24 beer taps and assortment of wines and cocktails to quench their thirst. Although other Whole Foods also have a casual restaurant, none have the gigantic bicycle wheels spelling OC.

the irv appetizers and salads

whole foods irvine the irv

Whole Foods is known for it’s selection of produce, especially organic fruits and vegetables. This location is no different. Most of the produce are locally sourced. I asked our tour guide to define local. By their definition, local is anywhere that is about a six hour drive away.

whole foods irvine produce department

In addition to produce, Whole Foods features many local merchants. From soap to beer to fitness attire, Whole Foods offers hundreds of products made right here in California. I absolutely love their commitment to the local community.

whole foods irvine local beer

As we continued our tour of the store, we learned about the process through which Whole Foods acquires meat. All beef, chicken, and pork sold at Whole Foods are rated using the Global Animal Partnership’s 5-Step Animal Welfare rating system. All meat come from animals that were not given antibiotics or growth hormones. Seafood is delivered fresh six days a week and sourced locally when possible. As part of their customer service, experienced butchers can cut and size meat upon request and the seafood department sells salad, ceviche, and poke made fresh daily.

One of my favorite sections of this location is the bulk section. The Irvine location has a pretty good size bulk section filled with essential pantry items. There are bins and bins of grains, flours, nuts, spices, legumes, and treats. I was like a kid in a candy store when I saw it.

whole foods irvine bulk section

Another thing Whole Foods is known for is carrying specialized items. As someone who is sensitive to lactose, I was in glee when I saw this refrigerated section. So much so that I took a picture of it. Milk alternatives were huge at Expo West this year. There were so many exhibitors with non-dairy milk products beyond soy and almond. Whole Foods also has shelf-stable options available. I now know where to get my milk alternative products.

whole foods irvine milk alternatives

The Irvine location has an expansive offering of prepared foods perfect for busy families and professionals. There are several rows of grab-and-go salads, sandwiches, wraps, soup, and entrées. Made daily are scratch bread, pizza, sushi, custom sandwiches and meals-on-the-go. The frozen section has 47 doors and two bunkers filled with a variety of entrées and desserts. If cooking is not your thing, it’s easy to find something to eat at Whole Foods.

whole foods irvine grocer aisle

Similar to other locations, the Whole Foods at Los Olivos Marketplace puts on events for the community. Below is a list of events for April.

Whole Foods Market Irvine April events

  • Sunday, April 10, 11:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m., KIND Bar Takeover
  • Saturday, April 16, 11:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m., Mini Facials in Whole Body Department
  • Sunday, April 17, 2:00 p.m. – 3:00 p.m., Whole Kids Club Presents: Build your own seed starter
  • Wednesday, April 20, 7:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m., Paint & Sip at Whole Foods Market Irvine
  • Saturday, April 23, 2:00 p.m. – 3:00 p.m., DIY Avocado Face Mask Tutorial

Whole Foods at Los Olivos Marketplace is open daily from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. You can connect with Whole Foods Irvine on Facebook and Twitter.

Disclosure: I was compensated for this post. All opinions expressed are my own.

Connecting with Nature at Tucker Wildlife Sanctuary

tucker wildlife sanctuary entrance

During this warm Southern California spring, when it’s not entirely too hot to be outside, we enjoy nature walks. One of our favorite places to visit is Tucker Wildlife Sanctuary. We’ve been going there since Big B was little. Every time we go, the kids always marvel at something new.

I decided to take Little B during a weekday instead of our usual weekend visits. Just a note, if you decide to go on a weekday, call ahead first. If there is a field trip, you will have to wait until the group is done to enter most of the sanctuary. We enjoyed the short nature trail just next to the science center since it was the only thing opened to us while a field trip was there. It really was a good thing because it was Little B’s first time exploring that little area. We saw a lot of native plants, cute little flowers, signs with facts, and little creepy crawlers. I am not sure who was more entertained, Little B or me.

entrance to nature trail

We finally entered the sanctuary (after taking a snack break) and Little B beelined for the tortoise area. Unfortunately, Henry wasn’t there that day. In fact, I don’t even remember the last time I saw any tortoise in the sanctuary. I hope they are all okay. The boys really do enjoy watching them. As per our usual routine, we stopped by the pond next. We saw koi, frogs, and turtles. Visitors can find many different animals at Tucker. We usually encounter a squirrel on one of the pathways, hear a variety of birds (we rarely see them as they are hiding from the very excited and loud kids), and see some insects flying by.

squirrel

Along the way, there are opportunities to bird watch. Tucker Wildlife works to preserve the natural habitat of local birds. As much as the kids want to see birds, they just can’t sit long enough, or quiet enough, at the bird porch. The bird porch is a nice shaded area, so definitely a place to stop for a while and cool off during those warmer days. During this visit, I actually saw a hummingbird flying by. Of course, it took notice of us and left. In other previous visits, we’ve seen a woodpecker and other birds I don’t recognize in various locations of the sanctuary. According to the website, over 98 species of birds visit Tucker annually.

bird watching through telescope

One of my favorite things at Tucker is walking through the sensory garden. I very much enjoy seeing native plants, especially the prickly pear cacti. As you can see below, they are quite massive and form a wall taller than Little B. I try to point out all the different types of plants to the kids. Some days they are engaged and some days they are not. That day, Little B was not. We then stopped by the amphitheater because the boys love to go up and down the tiered seats. It’s also a nice place to sit back and just look around at the mountainside, the creek, listen to birds, and be still even for a few minutes.

looking around succulents

Our last stop was the Natural Science Center. It’s nice because by the time we finish with the outdoor exploration, it usually gets hot and the center is air conditioned. We had the center all to ourselves that day, well, most days we usually do anyway. The science center offers a different way to explore nature. It really allows visitors to get up close and personal with wildlife. There are so many hands-on activities that are fun for kids and adults. I seriously learn something new every time I visit.

natural science center

Little B would not budge from the microscopes. It’s probably because he didn’t have his big brother shoving him off of one. He just kept putting slide after slide under the scope to see them enlarged on the monitor. He also opened every drawer in the center. Most of the time he didn’t bother seeing what was in them, he just liked to pull the drawer. He did find some of them intriguing enough to give pause. He especially liked the butterfly drawer. He also enjoyed seeing some of the live animals on display. There are a  variety of amphibians and insects visitors can observe at the science center.

looking through microscopes

butterfly educational drawer

There are many ways to connect with nature such as through books, films, and the outdoors. Some days we prefer books, and others – like when it’s raining – we prefer to cuddle and watch a movie. However, nothing beats being out in the open and seeing, touching, and exploring nature. We have been to other sanctuaries in Orange County. It’s one of our favorite places to visit.

How to you like to connect with nature?

You can connect with Tucker Wildlife Sanctuary on Facebook.