Sunday, November 27, 2011

DIY Holiday Decor: Letters

I have to start off by saying I did not make these myself, but was actually gifted them from my in-laws!  I had similar gold letters that I bought several years ago that read "Noel" that I put out every Christmas, but I am convinced that they were my arch nemesis of all my holiday decor.  For the life of me, each year I could never figure out where to put them or how to arrange them.  It was the kind of thing that at the time I paid way too much money for, but hindsight is 20/20, I guess.  The previous letters ended up breaking this weekend.  They were just not designed well and ended up falling off the mantel and shattering.  I took that as a sign that I was being released from them!  :)  However, I did really like the idea of them, so my in-laws (who stayed with us for Thanksgiving) surprised me and went to the craft store to make me some similar ones.  They spray painted them and secured them on sturdy blocks (painted white to blend in with the mantle) so they would not tip over.  I have to say that I like this version ten times more than the old ones.  What a thoughtful gift, right?

My mother-in-law helped me decorate the house for Christmas this past weekend.  It was fun to do it with someone else.  She's really good at arranging things for display.  And if you are curious about the stockings, my mom hand made those for us!  I love them and they mean so much more than store bought stockings.  There are some creative women in my family.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

DIY Advent Calendar

I love this idea (taken from here) for an Advent Calendar.  What a fun what to create your own board with stuff you already have around.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Look Down and Smile at the Ground, Tilt Your Hip, Angle Your Leg and You've Got It

In general, I would say that I'm clueless about fashion.  I'm not a big shopper and I have several pieces of clothing that I still wear from high school.  I don't keep up with trends but I do enjoy looking nice and feeling put together.  I was at a second hand store recently and came upon a couple of nice items that I thought I could pull off, but I wasn't sure how.  Thank goodness for Pinterest!  I typed in "black blazer" and "denim dress" and it pulled up a ton of options, a few of which I really liked.  The pictures below sold me on them and I walked up to the cashier.
My Favorite Fashion Blogs
These are my favorite go-to places for inspiration, although I always make fun of fashion bloggers 'stances' when they are posing for the camera.  :)

Jen Loves Kev-- I just adore her and I don't even know her!
Kendi Everyday--I like her style, but she shops at places that are too expensive for me.
What Would A Nerd Wear--Fun blog concept.  Some outfits are winners, some losers.  Wish she'd cut her hair!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Just So I Remember

 At 25 months old, Vera... obsessed with doing somersaults, however precarious they may be. beginning to identify emotion with words such as happy, sad, and mad
...likes to laugh alongside anyone.
....loves to color!
...drew a picture of a cat.
...sings songs on her own.
...knows the names of colors.
At 7 months, Lydia...
...crawls and sits on her own.
...feeds herself finger foods.
...bounces when she hears music.
...jabbers like it's nobody's business.
...lights up when I walk in the room.
...loves being held.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

These Times Are Fleeting

Have you ever had to get up out of bed for something, but you were in the most comfortable position ever and wanted to remember exactly how it felt? You study how your arm is laying and at what angle your legs are so that you can climb back into bed and feel that same exact comfort?  I do that with my babies, too.  What I mean is that I know these times are fleetingSometimes I will catch an expression or will study how it feels to be holding my baby so that I can lock it into my memory as best I can.  I don't want to forget what it's like to see Lydia gleefully clicking her tongue, imitating me.  I don't ever want to forget how it feels to hold Vera after she's been freshly bathed, smelling her hair, touching her soft skin, hearing her echo the words I am reading in a book.  I wish it were possible to hold these memories in a jar so that years down the road when my heart aches for my littles, I could open it up and remember exactly what it was like.

But we can't do that.  

So instead I settle for leaving smudged handprints on my front door, even for company to see.
I keep her blankie unwashed for awhile longer just so I can smell her night time lotion and picture her cuddled in my lap.
I leave a few crumbs in her car seat that show just how much she enjoyed that snack on the ride home.

They are my reminders of the incredible gifts they are in my life.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Pantry Chocolate Cake Saves The Day

You know why they call it 'Pantry Cake', right?  Because most likely you have all the ingredients on hand, in your pantry already, which meant Hallelujah-Praise-the-Lord in my book.  You see, last week I got my second speeding ticket within 3 months.  The first one occurred as I was driving my screaming kids home after a morning of holding both of them on my lap as I gave blood.  Both arms were poked, of course, since my veins are hard to get into, so I'm driving home with both elbows wrapped and can't bend my arms and I'm trekking a little too fast (10 over, I think) on the interstate home.  Though you don't want to have mercy on this momma, Officer, guilty as charged. 
Second ticket happened last week and I thought for sure the reason I got pulled over was that our permanent plates are not on the van yet and maybe the paper one was expired.  I definitely wasn't speeding because the speed limit is 65mph.  Buuut, apparently I was going 9 over the speed limit which warranted him in writing me yet another golden ticket to  Awesome.  To make matters worse, he came up to my window and mumbled a bunch of words in a harsh tone.  Since I was clueless at that point why I was pulled over, I said, "Say that again?"  Okay, maybe I should have rephrased but that's what came out at the time.  He thought I was being smart and threatened some kind of additional charge of disrespect.  What the crap, man?  I'm driving an Odyssey and clearly have no malicious intention as I hold a naked plastic doll in my lap while "Praise Baby" Lullaby tunes play in the background.  He gives me a talkin-to, writes me my ticket, and walks away.  I try to gather myself but I am just pissed.  Tears spill and I hear Vera's little whisper from the back, "Momma crying."  Sweet girl...yeah mommas cry, too.  This second speeding ticket (costing $170 a pop) occurred the morning after I had a conversation with my husband about how I feel like I've been spending too much money the last couple of weeks.  He agrees, so this situation didn't help.  Gah.

Hence, Pantry Chocolate Cake.  Yes, sometimes I eat my feelings.
Adapted from America’s Test Kitchen Family Baking Book

Pantry Chocolate Cake

1/2 cup (1 1/2 ounces) Dutch-processed cocoa powder
3/4 cup boiling water
1 1/2 cups (7 1/2 ounces) all-purpose flour
1 cup (7 ounces) sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon instant espresso or instant coffee (optional)
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla

1.  Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 350 degrees.  Line an 8-inch square baking pan with a foil sling and grease the foil.  Whisk the cocoa and the boiling water together in a small bowl.  Let the mixture cool slightly.
2.  In a large bowl, whisk the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and espresso powder (if using) together.  In a medium bowl, whisk the vegetable oil, egg, vanilla, and cooled cocoa mixture together.  Stir the oil mixture into the flour mixture and whisk until smooth.
3.  Give the batter a final stir with a rugger spatula to make sure it is completely mixed.  Scrape the batter into the prepared pan, smooth the top, and gently tap the pan on the counter to settle the batter.
4.  Bake the cake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with a few moist crumbs attached, 25 to 30 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through baking.  Let the cake cool completely in the pan, 1 to 2 hours.

Quick Chocolate Frosting

Makes enough to frost an 8-inch cake or an 8-inch pan of brownies
After the cake has cooled for about 1 hour, melt 2/3 cup semisweet chocolate chips and 1 tablespoon vegetable oil together in the microwave, stirring often, 1 to 3 minutes.  Cool the mixture until barely warm, about 5 minutes, then spread evenly over the cake or brownies with a spatula.  Continue to let the cake cool until the topping is set, 1 to 2 hours. If your kitchen is too warm for the frosting to set (like mine was) then place cake in fridge for 10 to 20 minutes to set the frosting.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Menu Making

I wrote a post awhile ago about my process of menu planning.  I get started mid-week and hope it is complete by Friday evening since I shop on Saturdays.  It is a task that usually takes a couple of days, but I love to see the week's menus come to completion.  (Okay, maybe I get a little too excited about it.)

Now that you know my process, here's another 'What We're Eating This Week' for ya.  For the sake of freshness, you'll notice we eat our fish first (fish deliveries arrive Tuesdays and Saturdays where I shop), then our meat, and onto the rest of the meals.  Sunday doesn't count though.  I'm off on Sundays.  That bread will be baked the night before and the slow cooker will be doing the magic for the chowder.

Trout with Almonds and Orange Zest
Porcini and Parsley Farro
Green Salad with Granny Smith Apples and Beets
Turkey Burger with Spinach, Chevre, and Cranberry Sauce
Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Lime Juice and Cilantro
 Night out with Girlfriends--frozen pizza for hubs
Wheat Couscous
Wilted Garlicky Spinach
out with hubs
How do you plan your meals?  Any helpful tips?

Friday, November 11, 2011

By Far, Her Best Birthday Gift

My mom is an amazing woman.  One of her many gifts is being a skilled seamstress.  For Vera's birthday, I asked if she could make some doll clothes.  Not only did she exceed my expectations, but she went all out on the details.  The pictures don't do them justice.  They are just darling and Vera has had so much fun dressing and undressing (and dressing and undressing) her babies.  I am so impressed and wanted to brag.  :)
Different fabrics, textures, and styles of clothing to choose from.
She is so creative!!
What cute little details!
I love this little outfit. It makes me think of watching "Little House on the Prairie" growing up.  It's got little white pantaloons to go with it.
She topped off this project with a Purdue cheerleader outfit.  Perfect!

These are the types of presents that mean so much more than anything store bought.  Handmade by my mom, these are priceless gifts that we will treasure forever!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Making Fun With Junk Mail

When Chris and I first got married, we would tear open the junk mail and stuff it back inside the prepaid envelopes and send it back to the marketing companies.  The things we did for a laugh back then.  :)

Now, in my more mature years (ha), I've found a somewhat productive activity in which to use the advertisements.  This being only Vera's second time using scissors, I definitely had to help her cut, but she enjoyed the challenging task.  We flipped through the junk mail, she would identify objects, then we'd cut them out together and tape them on a black poster board.
I find it interesting the things she picked out.  Coffee, for example, and boots.  For a quick clean-up, we picked up all the scrap paper and chucked it in the recycling bin.
Then we flipped over the poster board and got out the chalk.  I think she enjoyed breaking the chalk into little pieces more than scribbling.

Friday, November 04, 2011

Let's Wait a Month To Call These Gingerbread Cookies

While a culinary student, I remember learning some interesting marketing ploys in the food industry.  One in particular stands out in my memory.  How does it sound to order Patagonian Toothfish for dinner?  Sounds distasteful, doesn't it?  Then how about Chilean Seabass?  Much more appetizing-sounding, right?  However, the interesting thing is they are two names for the same fish.  Though not a bass, nor is it always caught in the waters surrounding Chile, it was named this because it was a more attractive name to consumers than Toothfish.  Things aren't always what they seem.

Likewise, this (really yummy) recipe I made today was called "Molasses Spice Cookies."  Sure, that's true and because of that name, more people will be drawn to make them any time throughout the year.  However, looking at the ingredient list, it's the same stuff that would make up a Gingerbread cookie.  But with the word Gingerbread comes the connotation of Christmas.  And Christmas only comes once a year.  My assumption then would be that to make this recipe more marketable in a year-round cookbook, they chose the name Spice Cookies instead.

Ah, that's just my two cents for the day regarding food business.  But I don't know anything.  (Except how to eat one too many!)
Molasses Spice Cookies
(America's Test Kitchen Family Baking Book)

  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar, plus 1/2 cup for rolling
  • 2 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon table salt
  • 12 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks), softened but still cool
  • 1/3 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup molasses, light or dark
  1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 375 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
  2. In shallow baking dish or pie plate, place 1/2 cup sugar for rolling dough;set aside.
  3. In a medium bowl, whisk flour, baking soda, spices, and salt until thoroughly combined; set aside.
  4. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment, beat butter with brown and granulated sugars at medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Reduce speed to medium-low and add yolk and vanilla; increase speed to medium and beat until incorporated, about 20 seconds. Reduce speed to medium-low and add molasses; beat until incorporated, about 20 seconds, scraping bottom and sides of bowl once with rubber spatula. Reduce speed to lowest setting; add flour mixture and beat until just incorporated, about 30 seconds, scraping bowl down once.
  5. Roll one heaping tablespoon of dough into a ball between your palms, roll the ball in the sugar, and then place it on the prepared baking sheet spacing the balls about 2 inches apart Repeat with remaining dough.
  6. Bake one sheet at a time until cookies are browned, still puffy, and edges have begun to set but centers are still soft, about 11 minutes, rotating baking sheet halfway through baking. Do not over bake.
  7. Transfer the baking sheet to a wire rack and let the cookies cool on the sheet for 5 minutes then using a wide metal spatula, transfer the cookies to the rack to cool completely.
Yields: 22 cookies

Thursday, November 03, 2011

This Is Not A Recipe Post

When it comes to breakfast (what they say is the most important meal of the day), I've never done a very good job.  For whatever reason, I'm not hungry when I wake up in the morning and it takes me a couple of hours for food to even sound good.  My typical morning routine is to down a tall glass of water with my vitamins, but on occasion I will make a bowl of oatmeal (with 1 T. raw honey and flax seeds).  But it takes effort for me to eat breakfast.

With both pregnancies, I tried to change that habit to give myself more energy and do the babies right.  Since upping my weekly long runs in training for this race, I have been getting into a routine and feeding myself this perfect post-run breakfast.  It is so satisfying that I crave it most days of the week now.

Scrambled eggs and raw tomatoes sprinkled with salt.  I spring for the organic at this point since they taste soo much better than the picked-when-green-hoping-they-are-red-upon-arrival ones.  This gives me the post-run protein that I need and is extremely quick to make.
What's your favorite breakfast?

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Save A Buck {Make Your Own Pumpkin Pie Spice}

Well, hi there, November.  I thought you'd never get here.  It's good to see you again and I hope you brought with you some cool weather to last us longer than a couple days.  This heat, geesh, is killin me.  Because I love you so, I decided to celebrate your arrival today with my first batch of pumpkin muffins of the season.  You're welcome.
In recipes when it calls for pumpkin pie spice, I reach for this line-up of spices in my pantry.  In recipes where it doesn't call for pumpkin pie spice, sometimes I still add it.  Like to milky iced coffee.  Or pancakes.  Or smoothies.  Or homemade doggy treats.

Pumpkin Pie Spice
makes about 2 tablespoons

1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

Blend all spices together.  Shazaam. It's that easy.
If you were a spice, which one would you be?  I have a friend named Cori Anderson.  Her hubs calls her Coriander.  I think that's the sweetest thing ever.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Nothing Amazing

Well, the hallway closet went from this
to this.

I did a little switcheroo with the guest room closet and decided that I like having the coats here as well as all of our games in one location.  Extra blankets folded on the bottom.  Dangerous chemicals are no longer kept at a child's reach.  Next re-org goal is the guest room.  It's a little scary in there, so wish me luck!