26 December 2011

Holiday Buhh-fay

Or, as I like to call it, our new fence. Let me splain...

Several months ago, our buddy came over to help my husband measure the yard in order to calculate supplies and labor for a new fence. We had put aside some cash for the fence, and were really excited to have it done. Well, after considering the cost of everything, plus the rental of the jackhammer and labor for all of the bedrock we're sitting on... the boys asked me if I'd like a new cabinet in the kitchen.

Of course! I'd been wanting that for-eh-verrr. So, we began the kitchen DIY. Note the large, empty wall in our kitchen. Made no sense to us when we moved in, especially since there was just a small corner for counter space. This wall could definitely use a cabinet.

So, the guys installed 3 sections of unfinished cabinetry from our local home improvement store. Beau moved the outlet to be level with the light switch since the cabinet would otherwise cover it. Handy!

These cabinets pretty much match what came with the house, so we can make it look like it was built-in from the beginning. Actually, I mean to say we'll eventually paint all of the other cabinets to match the new ones. All we had to do to begin the process was prime, paint, install the top, then put pulls on. Really, it should only take a couple of weekends.

After a few weeks had passed, you'll note that we began to use the drawers from the top. They're pretty handy that way. I also hung some old paintings to cover the screws that were already in the wall from our vintage window pane that used to occupy the space.

What pretty much began as a two week project turned into several months. We had to begin with some primer so we used the least offensive, fume-wise. My smart husband put some wood planks across the top so that we could dry the doors, indoors.

Even though it was tough to keep the kids out of the kitchen, it was fun having them help me brush the dust off after sanding. They will be great helpers someday.

Slowly, but surely, we got to sanding, painting, and more sanding. Then more painting. After some concentrated effort and a chair barricade to keep out the little ones, we managed to get it to the next stage.

Yes, that is my colander sitting on top of the paint can. We were working in stages, people.

The bamboo chop block came as an 8-foot piece from Southeastern Salvage. They cut off the two extra feet and made me a nice cutting board, complete with a routed canal. That piece is still waiting to be sanded, but it's there! After installing the now 6-foot bamboo chop block top, the guys very carefully measured, pre-drilled and screwed in the pulls that I found at Target. They had a nice price for a simple brushed nickel pull.

And.... Voilà! Kitchen buffet. It sure came in handy during this holiday/birthday season since we've had two parties, and one more to go. I really LOVE my new fence. Many thanks to Beau West Home Improvement, my husband, and yes, myself.

Maybe if I can remember, I'll get a nice complete picture of it in use. Right now, it's in use, but you don't want to see all of the junk it's been collecting over Christmas!

15 November 2011

Yarn Craft: Napkin Rings

My 4-year-old has been asking to make napkin rings for weeks. She saw a craft video on Sprout's web site and has been determined to make the Wrapping Paper Napkin Rings ever since. I kept pushing the project with each holiday that was approaching, and finally landed on Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving Yarned Napkin Rings

Yesterday seemed like a good day to get crafty, so we started out with the instructions from Sprout. After my daughter counted the expected number of people at our Thanksgiving dinner, I marked up divisions on a paper towel tube that we had saved. Using her "kid scissors," she then cut the tube into 9 rings.

Next, we took out our Christmas wrapping paper (not very Thanksgiving-ish, but I humored the child) and cut 1" strips. Lucky for nerdy-me, there are nice little squares on the back of the wrapping paper to give us 1-inch guides. However, even that didn't help with the results. After wrapping a few rings in the paper, Mommy made an executive decision to switch gears.

"Let's wrap the cardboard in yarn!"

yarn vs. wrapping paper
I mean, take a look at the sample photo. Doesn't the yarn totally beat the paper? Puh-leeeez. The paper just didn't have the same...je ne sais quoi! Am I right, ladies and gentlemen?

Here's the new DIY, folks.

  • Tip: if you don't have a paper towel (or toilet paper) roll handy, cut strips from a cardboard food box (cereal, granola bars, etc). Staple the ends together to form a ring of similar diameter to the towel roll. 
  • Find some yarn that has a nice color for your holiday of choice. We chose this great chunky burned orange for Thanksgiving. 

  • Pull the yarn through repeatedly to wrap one ring (without any glue, but maybe some tape to reduce frustration).
  • Unwrap it and remove the tape. Use that yarn as a guide to cut similar lengths for the remaining number of rings.

  • Using a hot glue gun, or good craft glue, attach one end of the yarn to the inside of a ring and let the kids help you wrap the rest of the ring. (You could probably use a mini staple to attach the end, as long as you conceal it). 
this is my 1-year-old "helping" the 4-year-old
  • When you get to where you started, glue the yarn inside the ring and snip off any extra yarn. If you're using a glue gun, you can try "ironing" down the end of the yarn inside the ring with the hot metal tip. This will keep it from fraying as well as hold it in place. 
  • Holiday Napkin Rings in an hour!

11 November 2011

Patio Garden Experiment: Fall Update!

So, PGEII (Patio Garden Experiment -Take 2) was interesting! It was not as eventful as we'd hoped, but we did eat whatever we were able to grow. I think we ate more from our friends' gardens than from our own, but that is to be expected when you're using pots in lieu of a raised bed. More watering and smaller plants, but easy watering and bug/worm picking, with easy harvesting. Just enough to feed us and give our patio a nice border.

the peas & onions before harvesting
We had peas, potatoes and onions in the Spring, a couple of green tomatoes at the end of Summer, and are currently enjoying kale and collard greens.

This summer's tomato crop turned out great for the squirrels. Saboteurs! Yes, nearly every tomato (green, yellow, orange) was picked off and nibbled by the little rats that live in our big oak tree. Thankfully, my husband ripped out the tomatoes and planted some kale, swiss chard and collard greens. We've been enjoying these veggies in our soups, sautes and sauces, and it makes up for the lack of produce this summer. I would do it again if I had to, but I think nothing beats growing things in the ground!

SUMMER... for the squirrels

11 October 2011

Growth and rest.

For the past three years we have been taking a photo of my daughter in front of the hydrangea plants. She is usually sitting next to our plum harvest since the blooms on the hydrangea coincide with the fruit picking in early summer or late spring.

Last year, we were sorely disappointed when our plum tree did not bear fruit. We had a few little ones that fell to the ground, but nothing worth keeping or eating. This year, to our delight, we had a great harvest! However, the hydrangea decided to take a sabbatical this year...

Here is our daughter with most of the second batch (the kids ate a bucketful, I'm sure).

2011 - with added dramatic flare, "what-EVER will we do with all of these plums?"

26 August 2011

Meatless Monday?

Hey, even Mario Batali's doing it. Meatless Monday, Tuesday, or whatever day you choose, it's a good idea, I must admit. Sometimes we need to let our bodies digest easy stuff, or tip the scales on vegetables. Here is our family's "Meatless Monday" dish – which we actually ate on Wednesday. I was a couple of days late this week, but whatever.

Vegetable Bibimbap
I started (once again) with a recipe from this month's Everyday Food. Their version of this vegetable bibimbap is really easy, and very tasty. You'll just need a bit of prep time for chopping. The only seasoning used is a little bit of soy sauce (you can use Bragg's) and a drizzle of toasted sesame oil.

My tweaks:
* I used gai lan (or Chinese broccoli) instead of spinach. It gave it more...oomph, in my opinion.
* Instead of the fried egg on top (I LOVE fried egg, but we did that the first time), I drowned some tofu in egg. You can't see it very well, but it's under the vegetables.

My egg-soaked tofu:
1 brick organic extra firm tofu (cut into bite sized "brickettes" - or little bricks, not coal briquettes)
2 scrambled eggs
garlic powder
onion powder
salt & pepper

This meal was so good, I'm going to do it again as soon as I get more shiitake mushrooms!

12 August 2011

Squash Spaghetti with Meat Sauce

I'm sure you've heard of spaghetti squash. Well, this isn't it. I like spaghetti squash, but sometimes the stringy quality of that particular squash isn't what I'm in the mood for. This dish was great because it was simple, juicy, and really tasty.

For the sauce, I put together my "usual."
* brown CSA ground beef in garlic olive oil
* remove it from the pan, add in chopped onion in more olive oil
* sweat the onions and additional veggies (eggplant, kale, carrot, whatever you like) then add the beef back
* season the beef well (whatever you've got...I use garlic & onion powder, chili powder, paprika, salt, pepper, maybe some hot pepper flakes)
* add in tomato sauce, canned tomatoes or pre-made spaghetti sauce
* simmer for as long as you possibly can (even longer with fresh roma tomatoes)

I had some zucchini and yellow squash (from Robin's garden, once again) that I peeled and cut into long matchsticks while the beef sauce was cooking. I simmered the squash in water until they were tender -- almost limp. You could probably add some killer flavor by cooking the squash in some stock, but I didn't think of it until now.

Super easy – just takes some cutting time. If you have a handy dandy tool to help you cut, then go for it!

11 August 2011

Yay for Recycling Services!

People for a Better Tomorrow

I started 2011 with a post called "The Good, The Bad and The Awesome." One of the "bad" things that started off the year was our local recycling service going out of business. Sad times...but we found a replacement shortly after! I apologize for not posting this sooner, especially for my local friends.

This service, PBT Curbside Recycling, is amazing. They provide a bin but they also will accept anything in your own bins (in addition to theirs). This makes it so easy because we already had bins for recycling and we usually have more than what their bin can hold. Most weeks we end up with more recycling than trash.

They accept just about everything that can be recycled and you don't have to sort it! Well, you do need to separate the glass items. We simply have an extra smaller bin and taped a sign on the top that says "GLASS." This ensures every one's safety and fulfills their expectations.

It is a weekly pick-up and they usually have come and gone before 8am. PBT has several payment options and we opted for the annual payment (only $12/month for purchasing a year in advance).


30 July 2011

Drink those veggies.

Cleaned and ready to juice.

Here is a colander full of vegetables and fruit.
"How will you drink them," you ask?
Call it drinking, eating, cleansing, living... whatever you want. Any way that you cut it, it's good for you. Some people have asked what combination of fruits and vegetables we use when we juice, so here is the little "recipe" for today's batch.

Saturday Juice Lunch
Prep Time: 5 minutes
8 carrots
1 large cucumber
1 apple
5 asian pears
2 small beets
1 hunk of ginger

leftover pulp
I acquired the beets and asian pears at the local farmers market, the cucumber from Robin's lush garden, and the rest is organic produce from a store. You can omit or decrease the ginger if you're not into the taste, or the spicy edge it gives the drink. If you want sweeter tasting liquid, simply add more apples.

Play around with ingredients that you love... I've used spinach, broccoli, and other greens, but unfortunately our juicer doesn't extract much from those greens. I really do love this juicer -- it is actually my parents' machine that we're babysitting. You just have to make sure the item can fit through the opening and it will extract the juice and dump the stems, seeds and other dry pulp. The pulp is great for your compost pile too!

Voilà! Beautiful AND yummy.

This amount of vegetables and fruit gave us two full glasses, plus some leftover. I'm drinking it as I type this post, being sure that I swish the first few sips. This gets the digestive juices going and reduces the tummy shock. Some people experience nausea with such a concentrated amount of nutrients, and some get headaches (our bodies these days aren't used to raw food). I experience both sometimes so I try to drink it slowly, nursing it for a while. This fills me up and I don't need a huge portion of food for the rest of my meal.

The other common question I get after discussing healthy eating is, "do your kids like it?"

My son sure does! My daughter likes it on occasion, but since she had a bowl of fruit for her snack I didn't ask her to drink this batch of juice. She did like the last batch, which didn't have as much ginger. You never know until you try, so keep asking them to taste it. Use fancy straws or favorite cups to make it even more enticing!

25 July 2011

Free Shipping on Everyday Minerals!

I've posted about my love for Everyday Minerals (since their products are so great, they have good colors, and it's healthy for your skin), and today is special because they're offering a promotion for free shipping. Even if you don't catch the promo, please check them out. No paid endorsements here, just pure love of the product. 

09 July 2011

Whimpy's Turkey Sandwich

I was cutting this mammoth sandwich in half to plate it when my husband said, "what's the name of that guy on Popeye? Whimpy. It looks kind of like Whimpy's burger!"

I should have put a fork on the plate to show you how big it really is...those tomato slices are Better Boy hamburger sized slices, next to thinly sliced zucchini (the larger end of a foot long vegetable). I hope that gives you some perspective. I can't go back to shoot another photo because I ate it. I wanted to jump up and down, it was so good! How did I eat this giant thing? I took alternating bites, top...bottom...top...bottom. It was heavenly with the freshly baked, super thin crisp crust and chewy layers of remaining bread.

I tweaked a recipe from this month's Everyday Food – one of my favorite things that sparks inspiration. There are plenty of great ideas for summer meals, and today's meal was a perfect way to use our produce from this morning's visit to the farmers market on the square.

Whimpy's Turkey Sandwich

Make a one pound peasant roll from the master boule (or buy a good round artisan loaf). After slicing it in half (like a hamburger bun), carve out a nest in the top and bottom of the roll. Spread a nice spicy or brown mustard in the bottom nest. You can do the same in the top nest but I used a bit of truffle paste (the original recipe calls for olive tapenade).

Layer in your turkey meat (I used the Natural Choice Cracked Black Pepper Turkey). Layer thinly sliced zucchini and tomatoes on top of meat. Nestle some Cabot Seriously Sharp Cheddar in the top of the bun and carefully put the sandwich together. 

Wrap it up tightly in foil and put it in the oven at 450º for about 10 minutes (or 350º for around 25 min). Slice it up and serve with homemade pickles!

If you get this Everyday Food issue you'll see that I replaced a few of the ingredients with my own, which worked perfectly. The cheese option (which is lactose free because it's made correctly) went perfectly with the truffle paste. The mustard and peppered turkey worked nicely with the creaminess of the vegetables and cheese.

28 June 2011

This cobbler's for you, Mom!

This month has been very busy, so this post is a bit late. It's worth posting because of the recipe so I hope you have the opportunity to try it!

Growing up we always had special celebrations with family on Memorial Day weekend. Not only were we commemorating several family members that served in the armed forces, but also celebrating Mom's birthday. This year, as we displayed the flag, I thought of my mom and how my parents worked so hard to give us a good life. They are now living on the other side of the world, so I choked back my emotions and went to the kitchen to make some cobbler.

Anyone that came for Sunday lunch from around 2005-2008 will remember one of my mother's dessert staples, peach cobbler. There was even an incident where the timer went off, the cobbler came out of the oven, then it was quickly grabbed by a guest and locked in the bathroom to avoid anyone else taking the first corner piece. I still remember Katie pounding on the door yelling, "Mel! You better get that cobbler out here RIGHT NOWWW!"

We made some great friendships during that time, and we bonded with several people that were living away from their own families. Now our holidays are spent with a few of these friends that are still around. Even though Mom wasn't here to enjoy it with us, making peach cobbler from her recipe was to celebrate her – her hospitality, and the contribution she made to forging tight bonds between us and our friends. Here's to Mom & Dad in the Philippines, Katie in New York, Mel in Spain, and all of our other Sunday lunch friends that have scattered all over the world. Missing you all!

Peach Cobbler Southern Style
1 c. self-rising flour
(or add 1 1/4 tsp baking powder & 1/8 tsp salt to 1 c. all purpose flour)
1 c. sugar
1 c. milk
1 tsp vanilla
1 stick unsalted butter
1 can peaches in light syrup

Mix flour, sugar, and milk until well blended. Add the vanilla & mix well.

Melt the butter and pour into glass rectangular pan. Pour the peaches & syrup into pan and mix with butter. 

Add flour mixture (Mom said not to stir it too much--blending the ingredients together TOO well is bad in this recipe)

Bake 40-45 minutes @ 350º.  See how nicely it chunks up?

Enjoy that favorite corner piece!

06 June 2011

Calzone for Two

Once again, we start with the boule...
Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day: The Discovery That Revolutionizes Home BakingI had just an apple sized amount left in the refrigerator so I decided to try a calzone recipe from my artisan bread book

The quandary was the lack of ricotta in my kitchen. I thought for a moment and decided upon my tweak for the day... Silken tofu! So, here is what I came up with:

Mix this up (roughly, no need to overdo it or it may get soupy). Heat the oven to 425º with the pizza stone and an empty boiler tray on the rack below it (like when you bake an artisan loaf). Roll out your dough on a lightly floured surface until it is nice and thin. Let it rest for a bit while you finish up the filling.

Sauté some fresh spinach in olive oil and garlic (I used the garlic infused oil I mentioned here) until the spinach is wilted. Dispose of any liquid that you may get in this process then fold the spinach into the tofu. Go back to the dough and roll it out some more if you need to. Place the dough on a well floured pizza peel (or use fine cornmeal if you like).

Layer some salami (or whatever you like in yours) on half of the dough, leaving 1/2-1" border. Spoon the filling on top of the meat. Using a brush or your fingers, wet the border then fold the empty half of the dough over. Press the edges together firmly then make a few slits in the dough with a serrated knife.

Slide the calzone onto the hot pizza stone and bake for about 25 minutes, or until golden. Slice it up and ENJOY! Be careful though, the filling is HOT.

03 June 2011

Music From a Tree

Thanks for sharing this one, Jay. You should just be called the Inspiration Station.

For those that love rhythm, strings, recording, or musical creativity – check out Diego Stocco's Experibass!

31 May 2011

Taters & Plums

We have potatoes! My husband was "cleaning up" the compost pile last week and pulled out a volunteer potato plant. He wasn't sure what he would find since he had transplanted the potato from a different place (we made room for other things but the potato decided to grow anyway). We have more potatoes coming, but they are in pots on the patio.

These beautiful red potatoes disappeared that very night after we roasted them.

volunteer red potatoes
PGE 2011 has been pretty fun. Those peas are still growing tall -- not producing much right now, but still growing and there are still flowers so I'm assuming we'll get a few more peas out of them. We have volunteer tomatoes, squash (or cucumber, not sure which), onions and shallots sharing the pea pots, so as soon as the peas are done there will be something to take over the soil.

What am I most excited about? Something that is NOT on the patio. These babies right here! They're green right now, but before we know it we'll be knee deep in sweet-tart red plums (and elbow deep in our sorely missed plum preserves).

red plums (not quite red yet)
Ooh, bonus cicada for you on the right. This could be the one I almost sat on today in the car. Or, the one that flew into my windshield as I pulled in the driveway. Or, the one that decided it wanted to be in my face and my hair while loading my kids in the car. Or, the dead one that was on the play set today...

This little guy thinks he should eat everything round he finds on the ground.

30 May 2011

Afternoon Snack Attack: Truffles and Muffins

Yes, that's right. I said, truffles and muffins. Since I've been so excited about the little things lately I'm going to start sharing my favorite afternoon snacks with you (well, technically the cookie post was the first).

My buddy ol' pal, girlfriend for life, BFF, la la la la la (she's a bombtastic friend) gave me a parting gift when I left California. To put it plainly, she sacrificed an extra jar of heaven. She has been totally in love with all things truffle and thankfully, she has shared this passion with me.

After melting a tablespoon of butter in a pan, I added garlic and salt. I took some leftover whole wheat spaghetti and tossed it in the butter, then took what looked like a smidge (maybe 1/2 teaspoon) of this Le Trifole and tossed it with the pasta in my plowl (that's what we call the hybrid plate-bowls in our house).

JUMP UP & DOWN HAPPY – that is what I called that dish. I immediately sent my friend a text message to thank her once again for that delicious jar of wonder. Oh, we've used it on plenty of things since I've been home... This is just one of those things that blissfully highlighted the flavor.

No, I wasn't satisfied with a bowl of pasta for my afternoon snack. My daughter and I baked an adaptation of Bananaberry Muffins from Raising Homemakers. We took their recipe and replaced one of the bananas with 1/2 cup plain yogurt.

To use my husband's reaction, they were "Deee-LIGHT-ful!" This is a very moist muffin that did not disappoint. Mind you, I've been trying to bake a good blueberry muffin for a few years now. I've tried different recipes from reliable sources but this one seemed to be the crowd pleaser. I guess experimentation with substitutions pays off!

Enjoy your afternoon snack!