Hiking with your kids

21 07 2013

Do you live in Pittsburgh and want to know about a great place to go for a hike with small children? Reservoir Drive Walk might be just right for you!
Read about it in my guest blog post at the Pittsburgh Mommy Blog, my favourite blog to learn about things to do with my little ones!


Greg and Ignacio having the best time in the woods.


Lila Mae: Sustainable, and made in USA

11 01 2013

Many times I have blogged about the importance of buying local, many times that “local” extending to USA. Why? It is good for the local economy, good for the people who take the risk to manufacture products that will be competing with the cheaper ones made in other countries, and it is also better for the environment because a lot of gas is saved if we avoid long shipping distances. My husband was recently on a work trip to China, and upon returning his determination of buying local as much as possible was stronger. I have also blogged about some of the difficulties I have personally faced when trying to buy local; problems with conflicting schedules and lack of availability, are some of those that I have encountered.

Well, I was contacted last week by Lila Mae, a new online shopping destination that launched this week! The objective of Lila Mae is to offer quality, sustainable local products. That eliminates the problem of conflicting schedules and availability! The founders are aware that these kind of items, though high in demand, are hard to find, so they decided to put together this business. You can think of Lila Mae as an online boutique shopping center, the products are unique, small batch, including women’s, men’s, children’s, baby’s, wellness, and even furniture and art! At the moment they have items created by 70 independent manufacturers and artisans from 31 states, but they plan to expand this list. In addition to being 100% made in the USA, all of the merchandise sold on Lila Mae is safe, non-toxic and environmentally friendly.

Elegant and simple, easy on the eyes, with a pleasant combination of colors.

Elegant and simple, easy on the eyes, with a pleasant combination of colors.

With an elegant and easy to navigate website, Lila Mae shows a drop menu to the side that organizes the options in a visually simple and pleasant way. It offers a wide range of product options, starting at $12  for wooden teethers (comparable to Etsy) reaching $900 for art.

Each product includes a few words about the manufacturer and why it is a green company!

Each product includes a few words about the manufacturer and why it is a green company!

One thing I really liked about their site is that they strive to present each vendor as a real person, someone you can connect with. Therefore, each product has a short introduction to the company that produces it and an explanation of why that company is environmentally friendly. What a nice way of humanizing industry!

Greening up my Christmas Gifts

13 12 2012

One thing that I proposed myself this Season was to buy local. I really believe in supporting our community and getting local gifts is a way to reduce our carbon footprint, because of less transport.

Thought I started before Thanksgiving, it was quite an adventure. I could order a few things I liked from local vendors through Etsy, but for the most part it was a frustrated enterprise. I live in Pittsburgh and I found that a lot of the stores I was interested in were not open when I could go. I wanted to get some old books (reuse, recycle, and I love old books!!) but the store wouldn’t open till 11 AM, which is my child’s lunch time, so I came back empty handed. I wanted to buy toys in the local toy store, but being in the middle of the posh shopping area (though their prices are more than fair) I found no parking space blocks around, though I circled it over and over and over again. That made me decide to at least support USA companies, and I kept that resolution, but I ended up ordering baby’s toys through Amazon, which is a life saver if you think that sometimes the only time you have available is 5 AM…. or any time before 11 AM, for the case.

I did buy a few cheap made in who-knows-where things. I know, I know, but when I need to ship gifts for a bunch of people I appreciate back home in Argentina, I cannot spend more than a few bucks, and I needed to take advantage of my dad being here and going back home just in time for the holidays, so I sent them through him. But I restricted that to the smaller part of my shopping.

Being an artist, I designed and ordered my own cards through gotprint.com, the price per card (including shipping!) was spectacular and they do guide you well through the sizing of your image. You have to order in bulk, though, but you can always use the left overs next year. And you really do not need to be an artist, you can use a photo you like. But what really sold me was that I could use recycled paper with them. What a great way of greening my Christmas cards!

The Christmas card I made for my family and friends, also available for sale at http://www.zazzle.com/joyful_penguins_christmas_card-137934760611734904

The Christmas card I made for my family and friends, also available for sale at http://www.zazzle.com/joyful_penguins_christmas_card-137934760611734904

And for the rest of my list, those people who have been great through the year and you would like to thank in a way, even if it is with a small gift, I am making them popcorn. I got some cute bags, some Christmas sprinkles, and I will be putting my own time into making them pretty Christmas popcorn.

Lessons learned from this season: Next year I will plan better, probably start earlier, and find out the operation hours of the stores before I get myself there. Nobody said being green was easier, eh?

And you, did you find a way of greening your gifts? Were you successful at buying local?

Avocado cake: two recipes that you will love!

22 10 2012

I know, everybody goes “Avocado cake!!?” And I don’t blame you, we relate avocados with Mexican food, as if it was the only way of using them. Growing up we ate them with mayonnaise or salsa golf (whatever the name for it is in US) and later, when I moved out, because I don’t really like mayonnaise I would just eat them plain or with salt and olive oil, make salads of different types, or mush them for guacamole. But I remember my dad always telling me that his dad used to eat them with sugar… and why not? If you think of it, avocado flavor can be defined as “buttery” but it is not definitely salty nor sweet. So I have been wanting to try it for a while, and since the awesome Bryan Street Market a few blocks from home has avocado sales regularly this time of the year, I thought I’d take advantage and buy a few avocados to try to make a cake.

What was my surprise to see that there are many options to make an avocado cake! So I just made one avocado pound like cake, and one chocolate avocado cake.

Chocolate Avocado cake with tropical avocado frosting.

The chocolate cake I got straight from Joy the Baker, it’s a vegan recipe, and that was a plus, because I’ve always wanted to know how vegans get the cake to work without eggs or anything animal. I followed the recipe as is, except that I reduced the sugar to half (only using one cup) because I figured that the frosting was going to make up for a lot of the sweetness. For the frosting I made my own recipe as follows:

Avocado frosting:

1 mashed avocado

2 cups confectionery sugar

3 teaspoons coconut milk

1 teaspoon orange blossom extract

The cake came out fluffy and moist, very palatable and the avocado flavor is very subtle, it is a light cake that does not feel heavy at all. The frosting has a very interesting flavor that I find complements the cake very well. My husband, who is very much not vegan or vegetarian, really liked this cake, as well as my toddler who does not like avocado. It’s a hit for sure!

The second recipe is also from Joy the Baker, though I modified it to my less rich taste. You can see the original recipe here. At home we like things less sweet than average and I use less butter than most, plus we really like whole grains and use white flour just for fluff. My recipe for one cake (not two) is as follows:

Avocado pound cake:

1.5 c whole wheat flour

Avocado pound cake. Very interesting texture indeed!

1/4 c white flour

1/4 c corn meal

1/2 tsp salt

1 tsp baking powder

4 tbsp butter

0.75 c sugar

2 eggs

2 tsp vanilla extract

1/4 c milk

1 ripe mashed avocado

Preheat the oven at 350F.

Mix the dry ingredients, except the sugar.

Cream the butter and sugar, add the mashed avocado and mix until uniform. Add one egg at a time, mixing well. Incorporate the dry ingredients. The mixture will be lumpy.

Bake at 350F for 45 minutes or until a skewer comes out dry.

My thoughts on this cake: It is good and sweet as it is, I really like the unctuous feel of the avocado and how it contrasts with the rough texture of the whole wheat flour and the crunch of the corn meal. You do feel the avocado flavor but it is very different from eating it fresh, and my baby (who does not like avocado, remember?) kept asking for more. The cake disappeared faster than what I expected! In retrospect I would probably eliminate all the butter, the avocado itself is oily enough, and I think I would enjoy it better with some vegetable oil instead, for a lighter cake.

OK, here you have the recipes you asked me for with so much interest! I hope you can make them at home and have fun with them! Surprise your friends and family and enjoy them! And you know, if you do try them, let me know, I always like to know what results other people get!

Exploring our surroundings: Glacier Ridge Trail

30 06 2012

It had been a while since the last time we went to Moraine State Park, PA, and we wanted to do a test trial to see how well would Ignacio deal with a trip because we have road trip plans for this summer. In the past we had tackled some of the trails and we always wanted to do Glacier Ridge. Of course, it was understood that with a baby, in the temperatures that we’ve been having, we would not do the whole 14 miles, and we settled for a 2 hours hike.

Glacier Ridge is a challenging 14 miles trail, with numerous environments, which is part of the North Country Trail, it also connects with the Jennings Environmental Education Center. Last Saturday was blissfully less hot than the rest of the week had been (and was going to be!) so we lucked out. It is fairly transited, both on land and the lake/river, at least the part we completed. It is also dog friendly.

We enjoyed the really good markings of the trail (blue blazes) and the part we traveled was not too challenging. Unknowingly we started on the Education Center, so it was extremely easy (think flat and manicured) but also there was no protection from the sun since there were no trees. However, it was a very pleasant walk and I loved how the environments were organized in a way that would make it very easy to see what characterizes each ecosystem (lacustrine, pond, woods, etc).

After we were done with it we kept going and entered the real trail (we plan to start from here next time), which was welcomed since we finally got some shade from the tree tops. My favourite spot was the hidden river, which is a shallow and rather slow river with ridges to the sides. I am hoping once Ignacio is older we can go kayaking there, because it is seriously beautiful! We continued some more and when the trail started to get really interesting and more challenging it was time to head back :/ but we really have plans to return!


Exploring our surroundings: Lockhart trail

5 06 2012

Just a few steps down Trillium Trail, across the road, we found Lockhart Trail. We were not planning to go there, but it seemed just as good as any other trail, so we put the baby in the carrier and after a short reconnaissance look we just walked ahead.

Lockhart Trail is a very nice trail, different from Trillium Trail in its difficulty, this one is more challenging, but still easy enough as for me to do it no problem with a one year old on my back. It starts with a steep slope going upwards but soon levels off, there are multiple areas in which there are slopes, sometimes presenting steps. This trail was not as plentiful in wildflowers, but nevertheless we saw enough impressive flowers as the Ghost Plant (or Indian Pipe) a parasitic flower that has no pigment at all, or Squaroot, also a parasite.

The nap said that it was the same length than Trillium Trail, which is roughly 3 miles taking all the loops, something we did in about 45 minutes. However, we found this not to be the case. The main loop is longer than that and there are multiple inner loops that will add up to the trail. I couldn’t tell how long it is, but it took us about 2:30 hours to complete it (inner loops included), yes, it was a tad more challenging, with the slopes and springs, but we didn’t find that our pace was too slow.

One thing you should consider is that the loop is interrupted. We arrived at a private driveway flanked by walls, fences and gates, and we thought we were lost, so we just turned around and walked our way back. Later we found a man who is familiar with the trail who told us that we were not lost and that there were small paths hidden to the sides of the gates and walls, so you could actually complete the loop if you wanted. We just tracked back. Also things to consider: It is a fairly transited trail, so you will not be all alone, and people will be there to give you directions if needed. People walk with their dogs, it is a dog-friendly trail, including hours of unleashed dogs allowed. The trail was interrupted several times by fallen trees and brushes, we just ducked and kept going.

We really enjoyed this trail and would love to come back to do it in the early spring when more flowers should be blooming. The difficulty was a nice middle point, and the slopes made the walk work great as an excellent cross training exercise!

Exploring our surroundings: Trillium Trail

9 05 2012

Trillium Trail is a lovely hike area a few minutes from Pittsburgh, it is located in Fox Chapel and it is a wonderful spot for wild flowers. I have been wanting to do this trail for some years now, but for some reason or another I found that the spring time would pass and I would have not gone. The recommended time for seeing the best flowers coverage is the first week of May. We went on the 5th, but the prime was past, probably because the beginning of Spring was so warm! However we got to see an amazing sight of blooms and had a wonderful time.

Red deer had decimated the Trillium in the past, one plant takes years to recover from loosing its flower. Fortunately efforts are being made to keep the deer away and the trail is starting to look glorious once again. When you go you will see a lot of fenced areas, these are to protect the plants.  There are three trails: Trillium trail which is the one that h as the most amount of trillium and wild flowers, it is easy for the most part but it has some mild slopes, Zen trail runs parallel, with a stream of running water, it is easy and gentle and connects to Trillium trail in two spots. Lastly, there is the Falls Trail which is steep and more challenging, but nothing major, however I would not recommend this one to people who have a hard time with steps and slopes. All this is about 3 miles  long and should take about one hour to walk leisurely.

Trillium Trail is just a great area very close to home! If you have not checked it out, do yourself a favor and go spend a lazy hour among the trees and blooms!