Luscious Acorn Squash Soup

Luscious Acorn Squash Soup, Elaine Griffin, The Laine ListWhen I was a little girl, my grandmother made the most delicious acorn squash. She would cut them in half and scoop out the seeds. A pat of butter, brown sugar, and salt and pepper filled the holes. Bacon strips were draped over the top. When they cooked the house smelled like fall. Earthy, baconny goodness. They tasted even better, served whole on the plate – a perfect side dish on cold, fall days.

Every year, when the acorn squash arrive, I scoop them up like it’s my job, and I cook them just like Gram did.

This year, as I browsed through Pinterest, I thought, why butternut squash soup? Why not acorn?

Luscious Acorn Squash Soup

The Ingredients

  • 2 acorn squash
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 1/2 cup half and half
  • pinch of nutmeg
  • pinch of cinnamon
  • salt and pepper
  • sour cream for serving

The Method

  • Cut acorn squash in half, and scoop out the seeds. Season with salt and pepper and place on a foil lined cookie sheet, and cook until tender.
  • Let the squash cool, and scoop out into a blender.
  • Add chicken broth, and blend until smooth. You may have to do this in batches.
  • Pass through a sieve into a soup pot.
  • Heat through, and season with nutmeg, cinnamon, salt and pepper.
  • Warm half and half, and slowly stir into soup.
  • Serve with a dollop of sour cream.
  • Enjoy!

This luscious soup is magical when paired with a sharp cheddar grilled cheese sandwich on Heidelberg bread!

Do you like acorn squash? What is your favorite recipe?

Summer 2014 Bucket List

Summer 2014 Bucket List by Elaine Griffin from The Laine List

The days are hot. The nights are warm.

We’ve already swam in ponds, and roasted things over fires.

Summer break has finally arrived.

We are all more than a little ready for summer.

We are tired of the grind, yo.

I’ve managed to squirrel enough cash to cut back on my work hours, and we have many, many plans.

I’ve never made a bucket list, but because there is input from 3 people, I figured it would be a good idea, because we all know I will not remember all that. Plus, A LIST!

Summer 2014 Bucket List!

Visit local swimming areas.
Make tie-dye t-shirts.
Visit local farmer’s markets.
See many dollar movies.
Make creativity journals.
Visit the planetarium.
Launch our food blog.
Pick as many fruits and veggies as we can.
Learn to ride a bike.
Learn to tie shoes.
Make a soda volcano sprinkler.
Go to the movies.
Have a sleepover.
Read.
Have a treasure hunt.
Build a fort.
Play laser tag.
Go bowling.
Build a sheet fort and watch movies.
Have a water balloon fight.
Learn the alphabet.
Run in the sprinkler.

I sat down and made this list with the kids, but I have some plans of my own, too. Plans I had hoped to fulfill last summer.

I’m always striving to be a better mother.

More patient. More kind. More present. More willing to drop what I’m doing for a hug, snuggle, or non-emergency need.

To put down my phone (also known as work).

I’m hoping cutting back a bit on work will eliminate stress, and not cause more of it, and we will have the best summer ever. I need it as much as they do.

Here’s hoping anyway! What are your plans for the summer?

7 Questions to Ask a Prospective Design Client

Prospective Client QuestionnaireWhen I am approached about logo and/or web design services, one of the first things I do is send the prospective design client a questionnaire, whether or not I’ve been hired yet. These seven questions help me get to know prospective clients better—which makes my job easier, and allows me to give each client the best design possible. My questionnaire is a mix of design and marketing questions that will encourage potential clients to think not only about what kind of design they want, but also what their overall brand will look like, and how they will compete in their market or niche.

7 Questions to Ask Prospective Clients

 

1. Elaine Griffin Designs Client QuestionnaireWhat is the mood you would like your logo/graphics/website to convey? In other words, when someone views your logo, site, and social media (your brand), what do you want their first impression to be? Please list 3 or more adjectives.

Asking prospective clients to list adjectives to describe their brand is really helpful, because it gives me a way to frame a design in my mind. It also gives me something to search for when I’m brainstorming the design. That’s right: I use these adjectives to search in Google Images, to see how other brands have chosen to display their unique personalities.

2. Who are your competitors?

Personally, I don’t really like to consider those in my business industry or blog niche to be my competitors; I prefer to think of them as colleagues and collaborators. But not everyone feels the same, and the reality is that we ARE all competing for our share of the market or internet. Knowing who the competitors are—and researching what the competition is getting right and getting wrong—is a great way for me to think about how to design a site that will give my client a share of the market, or find the right niche.

3. Who is your target market or audience?

This question is really a follow-up to the competition question. Knowing who the target audience is allows me to research how this audience responds to the client’s competitors. Doing the research first eliminates a lot of guesswork and design mistakes, and gives the client a leg up, right out of the gate. Of course, when you are creating a brand for a client, you need to give the brand some humanity; something to relate to. Part of the process of creating a relatable brand is knowing the design aesthetic that target audience expects from a brand like your client’s—including what they expect from a website.

4. What three (or more) websites do you visit whose design you admire? What do you like about these sites?

Looking at websites helps us both realize who the client is as a brand, and how we can reflect that personality in a design.

5. What three (or more) websites do you visit whose design you dislike? What do you dislike about them?

Interestingly, I find the question about what clients DON’T like from a website to be more helpful to my understanding of their design than finding out what they DO like.

6. Please tell me about colors you like. Which colors don’t you like?

Obviously, it is important to find out which colors that prospective clients feel reflect their personalities, and which colors revolt them. I take their color preferences and design ideas, along with some color psychology principles, and start plugging them into Adobe Kuler to create a color scheme.

7. Please visit Google fonts (http://www.google.com/fonts) and tell me about fonts you like. Which fonts don’t you like?

I prefer to use Google fonts because they are free for commercial use. They also are easiest to install, and they display well across browsers on the web and mobile. If a client would like to purchase and use a non-Google commercial font, I am not against it, and will use the @font-face rule to install fonts on their site. Google, however, remains my go-to place to send potential clients so I can get a feel for what they like and what they don’t like, and get to know them better. These seven questions really help me get to know my prospective clients. They also help me find ways to put their personalities into their final designs, whether through color, layout, special graphics, or fonts. Perhaps most important, these questions allow me to really work with clients to identify not only how they would like their brand to be portrayed, but also their key business or blogging goals.

What kinds of questions do you think are important to ask or be asked when building a brand?

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Grilled Veggie and Bean Summer Salad

Grilled Veggie and Bean Summer SaladLike many people at this time of year, I’m starting to think about what I’m putting in my mouth, and what will hopefully come off of my body. Not just to look good, mind you, but to feel good too.

Eating healthy is generally not a problem with me, as I’m in love with salad.

I make a damn good salad. This salad is no exception. While this recipe highlights asparagus, which is now out of season, ingredients can be substituted as the growing and harvesting season goes on!

Grilled Veggie and Bean Summer Salad

Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 15 minutes

The Ingredients

  • Asparagus
  • Red peppers
  • Grape Tomatoes
  • Green onions
  • Celery hearts and leaves – the leaves are super tasty and add a great texture
  • 1 can of beans of your choice – chick peas, cannellini, or black beans, depending on your veggie choices, drained and rinsed
  • Juice of a lemon, or vinegar of your choice
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt and pepper

The Method

  • Wash and trim all veggies while grill heats.
  • Remove woody asparagus ends, and cut red pepper and remove the stem and seeds.
  • Tomatoes can be left whole, or halved. You can skewer them or put them on a grill pan. In fact, you can put any of the veggies on a grill pan, or put the asparagus and red peppers directly on the grill.
  • Toss veggies (except green onions and celery) with olive oil and salt and pepper.
  • Grill until slightly charred.
  • Remove from grill and chop to desired size.
  • Mix in the beans, and dress with lemon or vinegar, olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste.

Serve warm or cold – and enjoy!

Does this sound good to you? What substitutions would you make?

Broccoli and Quinoa Salad

Broccoli and Quinoa Salad Elaine Griffin The Laine ListI know, again with the salad, right? But, they are just so darn good and a super great way to get those veggies in the kids. Plus, quinoa, who knew we would love that?! I sure never guessed.

This is another one of those salads I hope you will use as a base and vary your veggies and/or dressings. Use what you love and what you know everyone will eat!

Broccoli and Quinoa Salad

Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 30 minutes
Servings: 4

The Ingredients

  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • Garlic, to taste, grated, minced, or crushed
  • 2-3 large broccoli heads, chopped to bite sized pieces
  • lemon juice or vinegar of your choice
  • 1 package of quinoa
  • green onions, chopped
  • chopped parsley

The Method

  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  • Add broccoli, garlic, olive oil, and salt and pepper to a glass baking dish or roasting pan, and toss to coat.
  • Place broccoli in preheated oven and cook until lightly roasted and slightly tender, but still al dente.
  • While the broccoli cooks, cook quinoa according to package directions, adding salt to the water, or substituting chicken stock for water.
  • When quinoa is cooked, place in a mixing bowl and immediately add green onion, parsley, and whatever you would like for your dressing (lemon juice/vinegar and olive oil or regular salad dressing).
  • Pull the broccoli out of the oven and deglaze with lemon juice or vinegar. While scraping bits from the bottom of the pan, add to quinoa.
  • Mix ingredients together, season to taste, and serve warm, hot, or cold!

What do you think of this recipe? What vegetables would you substitute?

Top 7 WordPress Plugins for New Bloggers

There is no doubt that plugins are a great way to boost WordPress functionality and versatility. They are also a great way to help clients learn to use their site effectively, and to help them increase their visibility and grow their community. Here are my top seven WordPress plugins to get any client who is new to blogging started with a bang. Top-7-WordPress-Plugins-for-New-Bloggers

WordPress SEO, by Joost de Valk

wordpress seo by yoast elaine griffinThis is the famous SEO plugin by Yoast, and it is a must for new bloggers. It is a great way to help your clients learn about, and actually do, SEO on their blog. It takes the guesswork out and helps them learn as they go, saving them time and frustration. This gets them on the right track from the get-go, so they don’t have to go back and do the SEO later. This plugin also allows users to verify their site and submit XML site maps to the major search engines.

Black Studio Tiny MCE Widget, by Black Studio

black studio tinymce plugin elaine griffin This plugin replaces the traditional WordPress text widget with a WYSIWYG text widget, which looks exactly like the WordPress visual editor found in the Post and Page sections of the dashboard. Adding a text editor in the widget area increases functionality and allows users to add rich text without requiring any HTML knowledge—which helps reduce the sometimes-difficult WordPress learning curve.

Simple Social Icons, by Nathan Rice and Studiopress

simple social icons plugin elaine griffinI have noticed that many of my new-blogging clients fall into three camps:the “I KNOW I don’t want to do any more than Facebook and Pinterest” camp; the “I WANT TO DO ALL THE SOCIAL MEDIA” camp; and the “I have no idea … what should I do?” camp. It is for this reason I always install Simple Social Icons for new bloggers. This plugin not only makes it simple to customize shape and color of the social media icons on their site, but also lets clients easily enter and remove social media account URLs.

What Would Seth Godin Do, by Richard K. Miller

what would seth godin do elaine griffinThis handy little plugin adds a custom message to the top or bottom of blog posts and/or pages, welcoming visitors to the site. This is particularly useful if your client would like to encourage new visitors to subscribe to the site feed or newsletter— something newbie and veteran bloggers alike should want.

Jetpack, by WordPress.com

jetpack plugin elaine griffinWhat I love about Jetpack for new bloggers is the number options included in one plugin, many of which help with ease of use and reduce the learning curve. As of this writing, it has 33 features. My favorite features to set up are social sharing buttons, contact form, and easy-to-understand WordPress.com stats.

Pinterest “Pin-it” Button Lite, by Phil Derksen

pinterest pin it button elaine griffin One thing I would love to see Automattic include in their Jetpack suite is a “Pin It” button, as it is an absolute MUST for all bloggers! For now, though, I install the Pinterest “Pin it” Button Lite. This plugin offers a variety of options, including button color and size, placement, and custom CSS. There is also a premium version available.

Comment Luv, by Andy Bailey

comment luv elaine griffinComment Luv allows visitors who comment on a post to leave a link to one of their own recent posts. This is a favorite way for bloggers to create their community. These plugins are really just the tip of the iceberg to get clients going with their sites. I do use many other framework-specific plugins, but these seven are the foundation I build for clients to help them learn to use their site effectively, increase their visibility, and grow their community.

What plugins would you suggest for new bloggers?

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Learning to Cook from the Heart

Learning to Cook from the Heart, Elaine Griffin, The Laine ListI’ve been watching cooking shows since I was knee high to my mother and grandmother. Of course back then it was Julia Child. The Frugal Gourmet was right up there for me too. But after Julia it was Graham Kerr and Martin Yan.

Soon after that, celebrity chefs hit the scene and the Food Network came along. I could have died and gone to heaven. Celebrity chefs have begun to lose their appeal to me now, unless we are talking about pretty much any Chopped judge and then I will be right there.

Aside from that I now enjoy following chefs like Vivian Howard, who is not only employing the farm to table philosophy, but also learning about and sharing her regional cultural and agricultural food history. So cool.

My mother and grandmother have always shared in my journey to learn about food, and taught me how to cook. When I was young, my mother cooked out of the Moosewood Cookbook and Joy of Cooking. As I grew older we cooked less from recipe and more from head and heart. No matter how little money we had, we always had good food.

My grandmother had recipe cards that she would pull from her recipe box, but mostly her recipes were in her head. Most of the time it was more technique than ingredients. I can’t tell you how grateful I am for all of the hours I spent in her kitchen learning farmhouse recipes like homemade baked mac and cheese, scalloped oysters, creamed onions, scalloped potatoes, meatloaf.

She too, cooked from her heart.

The cooking from head and heart technique is how I am teaching my children to cook. Rarely do we cook anything from a recipe, at least all the way. There is always something that needs to be added or substituted. We create. Ben is particularly good at creating not just recipes, but soul-satisfying food. Genevieve is still a little bit too little for that, but her zest for helping to cook makes me believe she will master this skill as well.

Tell me, how did you learn to cook?

Holiday Gift Guide for Bloggers

Holiday Gift Guide for BloggersAre you wondering what to get the blogger in your life? Here is my top ten list of practical gifts that any blogger would appreciate.

Stock Images

Unless you are a photographer or food blogger, one thing bloggers almost universally struggle with getting great images without completely breaking the bank. A subscription to a photo service is a great way to help your blogger step up their blogging game. Try out Deposit Photos, iStockPhoto, and Shutterstock to get started.

Photoshop Elements

Of course sometimes we need to make adjustments to our photos or add text overlays. Maybe your blogger is a budding photographer. Photoshop Elements is just the right amount of photo editing software to get started, and at $99 is just the right price.

PicMonkey Subscription

In my opinion, even better than Photoshop is PicMonkey. This online editing tool makes photo editing, and producing graphics of all kinds a cinch. And, at $33 a year, it’s a much cheaper alternative.

A Year of Web Hosting

All I have to say is my hosting is expiring this month, and if someone wanted to pay for it, I would jump for joy!

Upgrades to Pro Accounts and Private Forums

One thing I know I hate spending money on is upgrading to pro accounts and private forums. They are just little expenses that seem to add up to large expenses. Perhaps your blogger has an account to their favorite web service or private forum that they would like upgraded to pro for enhanced features and materials? Maybe they would like to listen to ad-free Pandora. There are tons of subscription services bloggers use, so be sure to ask your blogger about their favorites.

Access to Their Favorite Conference

This one can get a little tricky because conferences are so costly. Fortunately there a few things you can do to help your blogger get conference ready. From purchasing passes to airfare and hotel accommodations. Points work too! Do you have some frequent flyer miles or hotel points burning a hole in your pocket? Donate them!

Electronics and Technology

This category covers the complete budget range. Think jump drives, headphones, iPods, eReaders and iPads, cameras, printers, etc. If you want to give a larger item but can’t afford it, a gift card toward the purchase is a great option.

Snacks and Beverages

I hear a lot of bloggers talking about their favorite beverages. Many of us work long nights or early mornings, and are balancing our families and meeting their needs first. A gift basket of their favorite snacks and beverages would be a most welcome gift, I am sure. I personally love gift baskets because I love themes and the possibilities are endless. Relaxation baskets could include wine, cheese, and chocolate or tea, healthy soup mixes, and whole grain crackers. Late night and early morning workers might various coffees, teas, or hot cocoa. You get the idea.

Books, eCourses, or Consulting Sessions

How many of us wouldn’t want to better our blogging or product/service with some courses, books, or consulting sessions? I know I would. Of course one thing to remember is you can provide the service, but not the time. A great (and free) ad-on might be some babysitting, cooking, or cleaning to ease the load and really give the opportunity for your favorite blogger to learn and grow.

Web Design Services

Lets face it, getting a custom website or blog can be pricey. Is your blogger ready for a new design? Check to see if they have a designer in mind, and whether or not they offer gift certificates. Even if they don’t officially offer them, they might be willing to.

What is on your list this year?

Good Eats with Kids: A New Food Blog (Plus a Meal Plan)

Ben and I have been cooking together since he was just a wee babe. It is something we have always enjoyed doing together, and while he is not always open to trying healthy foods, he has a terrific sense of flavors and how they should work together to taste delicious!

We have been working on launching a food blog for…quite some time. It just hasn’t been the right time. Work has been busy. His interest in the blog, frankly, has been hit or miss. My photography is not great.

So we’ve waited, and planned, designed and cooked. And now we are both ready to hit the blogosphere running.

We are very happy to announce we will be launching Good Eats with Kids on January 6th. Our site will offer you healthy meals and recipes that kids like, and that they will like to help prepare. Look for more from us here in the meantime – like menu plans! We are going to migrate this over to the new blog in the next couple of weeks, but for now it will live here. This is our weekday meal plan for this week (albeit a day late!)

meal plan november 18

What are you eating this week?

5 Things I’ve Learned About Being Overworked

5 Things I've Learned About Being Overworked

Every once in a while I fall into a trap of overwork. Have you ever been there? If you are a freelancer, chances are you have. Heck, chances are, if you do more than sit on your butt all day you have. It starts with a fear. Fear of having no clients. Fear of having no money. Fear of having an unhappy family. It is followed by an intense frenzy of too much work. Trying to turn around jobs as fast as possible. Trying to win new clients. Trying to keep a spotless house. Trying to take your kid to every event they want to go to.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

I’ve just come out of this cycle of fear and frenzy, and here are the five things I have learned this time around.

When you split yourself in too many ways, you can’t do well for anyone.

I know, it seems obvious, but it’s hard to see the light when you think or feel like you are getting a lot done or being there for everyone. What it boils down to is this. Give everyone their chance. As far as family goes, set aside that time to be together as a unit, and don’t give in to the temptation of “just five more minutes” or, “after this weekend, no more work on the weekends” or, “I guess I can squeeze in one more activity a week.” As far as your clients are concerned, create a waiting list. If potential clients want you, they will wait. If they know they will get your full attention when it is their turn, it will be worth it for them.

Once you start overworking yourself, it’s hard to stop.

Don’t let the fear take hold! We all know how hard it is to break out of any cycle.

All the things you thought you would do “soon” never get done. Remember roller derby?

I think that says it all.

It’s easy to abuse yourself when you are overworked.

This is both physical and emotional. The stress and letting yourself feel uncertainty and fear does a number on your confidence. This, combined with lack of sleep, at least for me, leads to poor choices. I don’t get a chance to take care of me, and I compensate the grossness I feel with indulging in wine and food. And then I feel more gross. And here we have another trap that is hard to escape.

Everyone around you thinks you are an asshole. Because you are.

All of the above lead to this one simple fact. When we are overworked we are stressed, tired, and unhealthy. We are short, snappy, and maybe a little sarcastic. We have  short tempers. How many of us are actually being their best for themselves and everyone around them when they are feeling this way? Obviously, we aren’t. And people see this, and they think we are jerks.
I’m glad to have had a chance to catch up on my work, both for my clients and for my bank account, but it has been difficult for everyone. Now I am hoping to be in a much better groove, and able to take better care of myself and those around me. I’m ready to write more, and greet the joyous season ahead with calm and pleasure.

Who is with me?