Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Little Einsteins Pat Pat Rocket

Have your kids seen Little Einsteins?  Somebody gave us a Little Einsteins (not to be confused with Baby Einsteins) DVD when Little Gal was two.  Our Little Guy eventually discovered it and has loved it ever since.  He used to come crawling into the living room and start grunting a whole bunch if he heard the theme song!

About a year ago, I made a plush Rocket for Little Guy because the ones online were super expensive.  Like, $100-$150 for a used plastic toy!  

A couple of weeks ago, when Little Gal was deciding what she wanted to be for Halloween and discussing it, Little Guy would never really say much about what he wanted to be.  I thought I would go with one of those easy hoodie whale costumes.  About a week and a half ago, he started saying he was going to be Rocket.

I went online in search of a costume, just to get some ideas of how to make it because I assumed the prices would be sky high (smug laugh at my pun), which they were.  $75 for a Rocket costume.  

"Will you be a whale if mommy can't turn you into a Rocket?"  I asked.

"No, Mommy.  Rocket."  The boy speaks quite well, and quite a bit, so I knew he was serious and that I had better figure it out.

I thought about it for a week, and then I made it yesterday.  I'm happy with it.  It's not perfect, but it's sturdy and it's not falling apart, that's for sure!  All of the details are there, and they are in proportion.  It's nice and plush and soft and it will keep him quite warm.  Best of all, he LOVES it!

If you don't look at my messy kitchen table with scraps of fabric everywhere, bad lighting, and not the best angle, I present to you, Pat Pat Rocket:

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

How to Make Hint of Cinnamon Kettle Corn

My kiddos and I LOVE Kettle Corn!  There's something tasty about that salty, sweet, crunch.  However, as usual, I don't like paying an arm and a leg (within proportion to the cost of a bag of Kettle Corn, of course) for something that I can easily make myself.  When this cool fall weather was calling for a salty and sweet popcorn snack, caramel corn sounded like too much work and too much sugar.  Regular popcorn didn't satisfy the sweet.   Kettle Corn was the solution!

It's very inexpensive to make, takes less than 10 minutes, and most people like popcorn.  It's also Dairy Free, Vegan, Soy Free and Gluten Free, so you can easily share it with a class or crowd of people without worrying about dietary needs.  We'll be taking Halloween treat sacks filled with this Kettle Corn to swim class to share.  Note:  Cross-Contamination might be a concern for those who are more affected by gluten intolerance than others.

I plan on making several different batches of this for my husband to take to work on Halloween, and I will share with you the different variations I'll be preparing.  Through photos.  Sorry you can't taste!

This Kettle Corn doesn't require anything more than a large saucepan (mine is a 4 quart pan.  I wouldn't go smaller than that), the ingredients listed below, and a large cookie sheet.  It makes for quick preparation and a quick clean-up.

1/4 Cup Vegetable Oil
1/4 Heaping Cup White Sugar
1/2 Cup Popcorn Kernels
1/4 tsp Salt
1/2 tsp Ground Cinnamon

1.  In a large saucepan (4 qt.), heat the oil on medium-high (though closer to the medium side) with three kernels of corn.  Put the lid on.

2.  In the meantime, measure out the sugar, and stir together the cinnamon and salt to make a cinnamon-salt mixture.  Also, pull out your cookie sheet.  Set aside.

3.  After the three kernels pop, leave the lid on and wait 1 minute.  Using a large spoon, pull the three popped kernels out, then quickly stir in the sugar until pretty well combined.  Pour in the rest of the 1/2 Cup of kernels, and cover the pan with a lid again.  Shake the pan (move the pan back and forth over the burner quickly) so all the kernels can be coated with the sugar and oil.

4.  Let the kernels sit for about 15 seconds, then shake again.  Continue letting them sit for about 15 seconds and then shake for a few seconds until you hear kernels beginning to pop.

5.  Once the kernels begin popping, shake for a few seconds, then let the pan sit for a few seconds.  Continue shaking then resting until the popping slows down to one popping every one to two seconds.

6.  REMOVE FROM HEAT IMMEDIATELY!!  Carefully (watch out for any popping stragglers) tilt the pan away from you (and anyone else) and lift the lid.  Pour the corn out onto the cookie sheet and use the spoon to spread across the sheet.

7.  Once the Kettle Corn is spread over the cookie sheet, sprinkle the cinnamon-salt over the kettle corn.  Using either a spoon or your hands, toss to coat with the cinnamon-salt.  While tossing, pick out un-popped kernels.  They tend to stick to the caramelized popcorn instead of settling to the bottom.

8.  Allow to sit until cool enough to eat.  Store leftovers in an airtight container (or ziplock).

Monday, October 28, 2013

Ways I Saved

My daughter wanted to be a pink dog for Halloween last year.  We had been working at my husband's new job for just two months after getting a Master's degree, I couldn't find any pink faux fur, other colors of faux fur were incredibly expensive, and in the end, she decided she wanted to be a princess after my boy picked out a costume that was 70% off.  Whew!  We really didn't have that kind of money.  It made me sad to not make his costume (it was the first time I hadn't made a costume), but they were a princess and a frog, and I couldn't have made that frog costume the same way.  All this past year, my daughter has remembered that she wanted to be a pink dog!  Last month I was telling my neighbor about her determination to be a pink dog, and my dilemma for finding fabric.  She said, "Oh!  I have some pink faux fur that I was wondering what to do with.  Would you like it?"  I was amazed and felt blessed that she had it and offered it to me.  Pink faux fur is a random thing to have sitting around in my mind!  Anyway, I said yes please, and finished the costume pretty quickly in a day.  I didn't buy a pattern, just designed one myself, and used her clothing to size it.  Turned out great!

I used up lots of leftovers this week.  I turned some into a casserole, some were eaten for lunches, etc.  It was a good week for using up leftovers.

We went to home school group where we made some cute little aprons.  The material had been purchased at a thrift store for about $.25 per child, we used paint (we made stamps out of leaves) that we already had, plus ribbons and thread that we had on hand.  It's refreshing to collaborate with two other women who find fun, creative, things to do without spending a lot of money.

I made French Bread, cookies, Hint of Cinnamon Kettle Corn (Oooee!  I'll be sharing this recipe this week), waffles, ranch dressing for my husband since we had run out, black beans (I threw them in the freezer and added them to my Freezer Inventory Chart), vegetable noodle soup, and Sweet Chili Thai Sauce.

I spent time in the garden sowing seeds.  I also got two pots for my blueberry bushes for 70% off.  I don't want to plant them in the ground here, so I need to transplant them quickly.

Radishes, spinach, and some purple broccoli are all getting their true leaves.  The radishes are beginning to bulb, too!  Our snow peas are producing.  I tried one, and even though it wasn't mature yet, it still tasted pretty good.  It was nice to eat something fresh out of the garden.  We're supposed to get a light frost tonight, so I'm probably going to be spending time mulching out in the garden today.  I am really pleased with my fall/winter garden so far, so I'm hoping I can protect well enough what needs to be protected.

It's getting much colder so I'm trying to be careful with how we run the heat.  I want it warmish in the house, but we need an affordable electric bill too.  I've also been more aware of our electricity usage and I've been turning off lights when we aren't using them.

I'm hoping that once all of the Halloween festivities have all been enjoyed, we can take a little breather.  We've had so many activities and extra things that we've been doing, I haven't had much time to budget this week, clean this week, or save this week!  

These are the ways we've saved this week!  Did you have any special savings this week?

Friday, October 25, 2013

How to Grow a Fall and Winter Garden

(These are my snow peas.  I've got several that are about 2" long.  I'm veeeeeery tempted to try one because I haven't eaten anything but herbs and green onion out of my garden in several weeks, but I'll be patient and let them grow...I guess!)

I loved my spring and summer garden this year!  Though I have been gardening and interested in gardening since I was a child, it was the most variety I have ever grown, and I enjoyed my successes so very much and I learned a little patience with my failures.  

The only problem was that I started my spring and summer garden very late this year.  I started seedlings mid May!  So I barely got a spring crop at all, and with that started so late, my summer crop was also started late.  On top of that, I had a very disorganized and tiny amount of space.  I felt like I was just "getting it" late summer and when fall came, I hadn't gotten my fill.

I started reading more and more about fall and winter gardening, my zone (7b-8a) seems pretty happy to oblige a fall and winter garden, and so I decided to plant one.

Honestly, things may die.  We might not get anything out of it except for garlic (next summer) and experience.  However, I'm hoping that I've chosen nice little micro-climates in my yard that will provide some warmth and shelter.  I also did my best to chose plants that would survive the cold.  We'll see!  Here's what's growing:

Part of our home school curriculum is gardening.  Not only can you learn a skill, but about seasons, about the earth, how does a seed grow into a plant, anatomy of plants, etc., etc.  It really is endless!  My husband built these great little boxes that are 12"x 12" wide and about 18" deep.  They're perfect for the plants the kiddos picked out and they're easy for them to water and observe.

I am growing garlic for the first time!  I planted a Spanish Hard Neck as well as a Late Italian Soft Neck.  The Spanish is thriving and the growth is probably about 8" tall.  However, I hadn't seen my Italian yet, though I planted the Italian at the same time as the Spanish.  When I pulled the mulch back yesterday, I saw a little growth poking out of the clove!  I'm very excited!

Here's the Spanish Hard Neck bed.  There she grows!

This is one of the radish beds (breakfast variety?) in a bed that is not raised.  It's struggling.  Those are thinnings on the ground, by the way!  They are struggling because of the insects, I think.  Though I'm having a hard time seeing anything that's eating them.

I think plants, even smaller ones, know when they are in a raised bed.  For some reason (knock on wood!), the slugs and bugs (with the exception of a few spider friends) have not yet found this bed.  This is the awesome bed that my husband built for me out of re-purposed wood.  And my oh my!  My plants love this bed.  These are radishes (I think breakfast radishes) and rainbow carrots, which you can see coming up if you look closely.  I'm crossing my fingers that I'll be able to overwinter the carrots.  I haven't told my children that they're rainbow carrots.  I want it to be a surprise when we pull them up!

This is another one of my favorite beds.  The upper and lower rows are spinach, the center is more breakfast radish.  Yes, I went a little crazy with the radishes!  I wasn't successful growing them this summer (I started them too late in the spring!), so I'm trying several areas of the yard.

They are also a very quick crop.  I read that you can sprinkle them in when you sow carrot seeds as they grow fast and can be harvested shortly after your carrots are beginning to germinate.  They also mark the rows where you planted the carrots.  So I'm trying that!  They are also quite cold hardy.

Last but not least, the poor cement block bed that has been planted three times and is now a netted fortress of doom.  The garlic has been planted--1 clove in each hole of the blocks--carrots (baby and rainbow), radishes (Cherry Belle), one broccoli seedling that I saved from when my greenhouse blew over (grrrr), and the Bok Choy that I planted has germinated and we'll see how that does as well.

Because of the cat, I keep finding random radishes popping up all over the place.  However, I'll let them grow as I plan on putting some lettuces, broccoli and kale in here once they're germinated and grown a bit bigger in the greenhouse.  

To sum it up, Fall and Winter gardening is awesome!  I can't wait to see what makes it and what doesn't.  I'm having fun taking notes in my garden journal, and I'm hoping to record some crops.  I'll do a post next week about my little greenhouse and the happenings there.

Tips for Starting a Fall or Winter Garden:

-Choose your crops carefully!  Pick plants that are cold hardy.  

-Picking up  transplants from the greenery could be a good idea.  While you're there, ask them what you can grow in the winter.

-If it's too cold outside in your climate, try growing some herbs inside.  I'm planning on bringing some basil, parsley and rosemary inside for the winter.  I have a large window in my kitchen and I think they will look nice sitting on the windowsill.

-Don't forget to mulch.  It keeps the soil warmer and protects from frost.

-Grab some horticultural fleece.  If you have a night or two that will be colder than usual, these may just tide your plants over.

-Try lasagna gardening.  Or at least throw a thick layer of mulch (such as leaf litter, straw, pine needles, etc.) down and put your garden soil on top.  The mulch will create heat as it decomposes.

-Try to plant on the south facing side of the house.  This is going to get the most sun.  Also, a bed on the south side of the house with a wall on the west side would help keep a lot of heat in and would also protect from the wind to a degree.

-Buy a row cover.  They don't always protect from frost, but they can help keep the soil warmer.

-Don't be afraid to try something.  If it works, it works!  If it doesn't, try it in the "correct" season next year.

-Get a cold frame, hoop house over an existing garden bed, or a walk-in green house.  Even if you're just dealing with a plastic covered, unheated green house, it can prevent some insects from getting in and supposedly stay about 5 degrees warmer.  Even if you can't grow much, one of these suggestions will allow your spring and summer crops to come up a bit earlier.

Are you growing a fall or winter garden?  What did you plant?  What have you had success with in years past?

Thursday, October 24, 2013

5 Tips for Organizing Kitchen Cupboards

I re-organized my food storage containers!!!  

One day I was looking up in the cupboard of ramekins, mugs, serving bowls, bread baskets, etc., etc., when the epiphany came to me.  These random items were in a very functional place that my food containers could be occupying.  About a week went by without a follow-up in the plan, when yesterday I was putting dishes away and noticed a whole bunch of food storage containers had been cleaned.  It was a "Now or Never" sort of moment, so I went for it!  

I ran into two problems, one of which I was unable to remedy.  The first problem is that I am quite short as am less than five feet, two inches tall.  Moving onward, friends.  The second problem is that the shelves in the cupboards I was dealing with were very high.  You know those top shelves that you usually only put holiday-themed platters and lesser used appliances in?

Well, to remedy the second problem, I grabbed my step ladder.  I sorted my containers so nicely, and thought I was done, when the light bulb came on. 

I needed to get off of the step ladder, and test reaching for what I could to make sure that I had put the important stuff in the front of the shelves.

Now, maybe everybody already does this, however, I thought I would share.  Just in case!  Once I was got off of the step ladder, I thought of several other food storage situations to consider.

Here are my 5 Tips for Organizing Kitchen Cupboards:

1.  When cleaning out a cupboard, evaluate your items and toss or donate items that you no longer use or want.  I found a lid to a container that I gave away several months ago.  Adios!

2.  Make sure that you keep like items together when possible.  For example, I keep my cooking spices and herbs separate from my baking spices.  It makes it easier to find if like items are together.  If I'm making banana bread, I grab the cinnamon that's next to the flour so that I don't have to dig through garlic, parsley, oregano and all of the other herbs and spices that I would generally cook with to find it.

3.  Look at your space (i.e. counters, shelves and cupboards) as if they were real estate.  I discovered that some prime real estate in my pantry was being used for curtains that were left here with the house, that are 100% NOT my style.  I can give them a different home and use that space more effectively.

4.  Do you have things that you only use seasonally?  Can you buy a plastic tote to store them in (or a shelf way up high) for those special occasions where you want to use them?  My kitchen is quite small, so I bought a tote and it's working out great!  It's stored in the garage.

5.  Lastly, when you organize higher shelves, get off of the step ladder and see how accessible items are when you are at your normal height.  I admit it!  I rarely pull out my step ladder.  I'm a pull-out-the-kitchen-tongs-to-reach-it sort of gal.  Can you reach all of the items that you want to be able to reach?  Are the most important things in the front?  Do you have too many rows of items that will be needed on a regular basis and that you won't want to pull down in order to reach the important stuff in the back?

Those would be my tips to a more organized kitchen.  What do you do?  Do you have any special tips?

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Free Printable Freezer Inventory Chart

Ever since I started cooking ahead and keeping sides and meals in my freezer, I've kept a freezer inventory chart.  However, this was just a sheet of notebook paper, hastily ripped out of a binder and quickly scribbled on.  

In each row, I'd write down the item I had made and then make a tally for each serving that I threw into the freezer.  Yikes!  It got ugly towards the end when all of the tally lines were cross-marked and smooshed onto the line again and again, with the tallies getting closer and closer to the titles of the dishes as I added more and more tally marks.  You see, I was avoiding "making" another inventory chart out of notebook paper.

So I created a pretty Freezer Inventory Chart.  Something that would actually look nice as it adorned my refrigerator or the inside of my cupboard door.  It is going to be very nice to have it on a nicer, more organized paper!

I wanted you to be able to try it out as well, so I made it a complimentary printable...I think!  The more I work with this blog and experiment with and try new things, I realize how little I know about the behind-the-scenes working of websites.  Who knew just how difficult it would be to create a printable document!?!

If you wouldn't mind, if you try printing the Inventory Chart, please let me know how it goes in the comments.  I'm learning, and I'm having fun learning, but in the end, I want this to be a frustration-free place for you, the readers. 

How do you keep track of your freezer meals?  Any favorite recipes?

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

In the Kitchen

I ran out of my favorite Asian-cooking sauce last week!  I love using Sweet Chili Sauce, but it was about $4 for a bottle, which I didn't want to fit into my grocery budget.  What to turn to but Google, right?  I found THIS Sweet Chili Thai Sauce recipe and decided to try it out.  I'm so glad that I did!  It turned out great.  Also, the ingredients were all in my cupboard, and this has to cost, at most, $.25 to make.  Woohoo to not buying expensive little jars!

I like to use it in a Pad Thai recipe that I use.  But I've also used it for Vegetable Stir Fry.  Try making a stir fry with rice and veggies, soy sauce, a tablespoon or two of peanut butter, some ground ginger, and a tablespoon or two of this sauce.  It'll add a great element to your meal.  Also, if I want to make an Asian dish that calls for noodles that I don't have, I use whole wheat angel hair pasta noodles.

I ended up scaling the recipe down to 9 servings (I'd saved the jar from my purchased sauce and wanted it to fit in the same jar), and per other reviewers, I made a few other changes. 

I doubled the cornstarch, left out two tablespoons of sugar, used 1/4 tsp dried crushed red peppers (the kind people usually sprinkle on their pizza), used a heaping 1/4 tsp dried ground ginger as I didn't have fresh, and reserved two tablespoons of water to allow the cornstarch to dissolve while the sauce was simmering for five minutes.  This helped prevent clumping.

Also, the directions only say to stir in the cornstarch.  This isn't very clear!  You need to keep the pan over heat and stir quickly with a whisk as you drizzle the cornstarch/water mixture in.  Continue whisking until the sauce thickens to a pre-set pudding consistency.  THEN remove from heat and allow to cool, then store in the refrigerator.

All of these changes made for an awesome sauce!  Someday I'll make it as the recipe calls for, which is my general rule.  Ha!  

Have you used Sweet Chili Thai Sauce?  What dishes do you use it in?

Monday, October 21, 2013

Ways I Saved

We had another good week of saving!

We started swim lessons again, and it has become very clear how worn Little Gal's bathing suit is. I had looked at a couple of stores for summer clearance swimsuits without luck, but on a whim, went wandering into a store after Story Time at the library. I happened to find the last swimsuit in her size for 75% off! It's nicely lined and should last until next summer. I also went through our box of clothes that my sisters have passed down (thanks, sisters!) and found several swim trunks for Little Guy. Between the free dance shoes, and the inexpensive or free swim suits, we're set for their extra activities. Woohoo!

I continued to cook in the crockpot this week. I made Vegetable Barley Soup one night, and we had it for two lunches to finish it off. I was pleased with how well it lasted, and that nobody complained about the leftovers.

I also made Simple Yellow Rice in my pressure cooker, and Roasted Potatoes in the Crockpot. I have a bit leftover from each of those, so I'll be turning them into a casserole for dinner tonight.  I also made Wheat Pancakes, Popcorn, and used up nuts and raisins for snacks when I'd purchased them for a good price.

I ran out of high gluten flour (horrors!!), out of which I primarily make pizza dough, wheat bread (no, its not 100% whole wheat) and French Bread. I was going to wait until November to buy a 50 pound bag, but some money was freed up in our budget and I went to Cash and Carry (kind of like a Smart & Final) with it. It was fabulous to shop there! I need to go more frequently.  I was able to stock up on popcorn, black beans, high gluten flour, chocolate and vanilla pudding (I think the bags are 26 oz?), bananas (I'll be freezing what we don't eat before it gets too ripe), straws (my kids think straws are amazing, and they had a 400 count box of neon colors that are very sturdy for less than $4), and a fun new thing.  Flavored syrups!  I'd been wanting to purchase some to make Italian Cream Sodas for quite a while (and to flavor hot chocolate and apple cider), but I just hadn't gotten around to it.  While we were there, I price checked them, then fit them into the budget.  We got Raspberry and also Vanilla.  I want to go pick one out as a family (they were $3.87 at my store) and make milkshakes one night.  So far, we've used them in the Italian Sodas, and a Raspberry milkshake.  Yummy!!  The bottles are large and will last a long time.  We think it's a good investment in fun!

I had a baking/cooking day.  I made a Carrot Cake (without the frosting--I wanted a simple treat for us), French Bread, and I cooked a batch of dry black beans in my pressure cooker.

I made and canned applesauce and Apple Pie Filling.  I had purchased the apples for a pretty good price.  I'm probably going to order a box to keep for the rest of the fall/winter.

My husband built shelves for me!!!  I can't tell you how excited I am!  The kiddo's room has been very unorganized for a couple of months, even when it's all cleaned up.  So I told my husband what I wanted a few weeks ago, and he built it for me over the weekend.  We have some more to do, but I can put all of their school stuff on the shelves and free up quite a bit of space on the shelf where it was in my laundry/pantry room.  It cost money to buy the supplies, but we got what we wanted for a much better price than buying the shelves pre-made.

I sowed more seeds out in the garden.  My garden had some very rough spots this past week.  First, my greenhouse blew over, then my cat got into the new cement block bed (it was covered, but I found out she was getting through the netting on the side) and dug up all of the seeds that had been in the ground.  She proceeded to do this three times total.  Ahhh!  My husband helped me take care of it over the weekend, and now there is a bird netting fortress of doom there.  She has not disturbed the bed since, we stabilized the greenhouse, and things are doing much better now.

Almost all of my Green Tomatoes have ripened, and I was able to put another Gallon bag into the freezer.

We went to our Home School Group, and to Story Time at the library.

We played in the backyard a LOT this week.  The kids helped me plant things, watered their little garden boxes, dug in the dirt and played on the swing.

I stayed within my grocery budget last week, and we had a budget meeting to make sure things were on track.  I love those little budget meetings with my husband.  They work really well for us.

These are some ways we saved.  How about you?  What did you do to save money this past week?

Friday, October 18, 2013

How to Build a Raised Garden Bed with Cement Blocks

I am experimenting with a fall/winter garden.  Even if it doesn't grow, the beds that we've built will be ready in the spring.  So far I have planted lettuce, spinach (about to get true leaves), radishes (some have true leaves), kale (ugh, still hasn't come up, so I'll be starting these in the greenhouse), rainbow and baby carrots (I plan on mulching these for overwintering), purple sprouting broccoli, leeks, onions, snow peas, bok choy and green onions.  I also have some parsley, cilantro, basil and rosemary in the greenhouse and we'll see how long they survive.

I'm hoping that I have found some good microclimates in my yard that offer more sun and warmth and the beds are raised and might be mulched which will add extra heat.

I also have a walk-in greenhouse, which is about 4x6' and not glass, but I know it'll add a certain amount of protection.

Remember when I ripped out my tomato plants for a new bed? Well, we built one more raised bed out of cement blocks in that spot over the weekend!  I'm very excited to have another raised bed.  The drainage is a million times better than it had been, I can put bird netting over it (for our cat...grrr), and I'll be able to cover with a row cover if I want to by attaching it to the fence.

It was very simple to build, and we're really happy with it.

First, we measured the length and width of the bed.  We also decided on some specs.  One thing we were worried about was the fact that the bed is up against one wall of the house and a length of fence.  We wanted to protect them with extra cement blocks to prevent rotting, so we measured them out and found blocks that were a little taller, but also thin enough to not take up precious bed space.

Next, we bought the blocks and set them up.  This was probably the easiest part.  You might want to take some gloves to the home improvement store if you don't want your hands getting ripped up from the blocks.  I use my hand a lot, and they're definitely not smooth and delicate, but I was surprised at how much damage they received from my loading and unloading them to the cart, then helping my husband place them.

Next, we laid down a 2-3" layer of straw.  As the straw decomposes, it will add nitrogen to the soil, but also heat, which will be helpful for my fall/winter garden.

Next, we filled it up with soil from our favorite greenery.  Do you see how rich that soil is?  I tell you what!  I can get anything to grow in there.  Buying dirt was a little mental struggle for me, because it's DIRT.  DIRT shouldn't cost money because it's everywhere.  However, this dirt is awesome.  And the dirt in our yard is not awesome.  It's either rocky clay or rocky sand.

Not pictured, are the holes filled in.  I bought one last bag of dirt and filled them in after I'd already photographed this.  After filling them, I planted them with garlic as fortress of doom to keep the slugs out...or that's what I tell myself!  Ha.  I'm not sure if this is the best place for garlic to grow, but I've got it all planted around the yard, so we'll see how the experiment goes.

It may not be the most beautiful raised bed, but it's functional.  And I like functional!  What are your raised beds made of?  What do you like about them?  What would you do different?

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Silver Dollar Pancakes: Great Secondary Use for a Cookie Dough Scoop

When you were a child, did you ever want your mom or dad to make you a really teeny, tiny, pancake?  I did!  If that batter dripped the tiniest bit, I wanted that little pancake.  

It turns out that my children also love teeny, tiny, pancakes.  Inspiration came a few months ago when I told my Little Gal that I would be making pancakes for breakfast.  Just as I opened the baking drawer, she asked, "Can you make them really small, mommy?"

My hand passed the Cookie Scoop on its way to the measuring cups, and just as I was thinking what a mess, how not uniform, and how drippy it would be (I was about to say, "Not this time"), my eyes went back to the cookie scoop.

"Sure, we can have little pancakes!"

I made my batter as usual, but scooped with my cookie scoop instead of with my 1/4 Cup measuring cup.

They are almost perfectly uniform and they are just the size of the silver dollar pancakes you can order at restaurants.  My kids love them, and I love having a simple way to make them happy!

Of course, if you want to try a new pancake recipe but want that same little plate stacked high with three large pancakes, try the recipe below, but scoop with a 1/4 Cup measuring cup.

This recipe that I've developed is the best medium that I can find that suits everyone in our family.  They won't go for 100% whole wheat, but they'll go for 66%, so I'll take it!  

1 Cup Whole Wheat Flour
1/2 Cup All Purpose Flour
1 TBS Slightly Heaped Baking Powder
2 TBS Raw Sugar (or regular white sugar)
3/4 tsp Salt
1 Cup Plain Almond or Non-Dairy Milk
1 Scant TBS Apple Cider Vinegar
1 TBS Ground Flax
1/2 C Water
1 TBS Vegetable Oil
1 tsp Vanilla Extract

1.  In a medium bowl, mix the flours, baking powder, sugar, and salt.

2.  Pour milk into a glass measuring cup.  Add vinegar and mix until bubbly.  Add flax, and mix again until bubbly.

3.  Add the milk mixture, water, oil, and vanilla to the flour mixture, and whisk until combined.

4.  Let the batter sit 5-10 minutes so that science can get to work on it and you can heat your griddle over a medium low flame.

5.  Grease griddle (or use nonstick), and use your cookie scoop (or a 1/4 Cup measuring cup) to pour the batter on.  Cook until you see bubbles forming in the batter, and a peak underneath shows that they are golden brown.  Flip, and cook until golden brown.

6.  Place on a cooling rack for 2-3 minutes to allow the pancakes to continue cooking a bit until they cool, without sweating. Serve with jam, fruit butter, fruit, or syrup.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Crockpot Vegetable Barley Soup

I used to think people were a little TOO in love with their crockpots. Yes, they're nice, yes, they're convenient, but why on earth would anybody use one seven days a week, have more than one, or go crazy any time a discovery was made of a new food that could be cooked in a crockpot?

Well, last week our kids started swim lessons, Little Gal started dance class, and we started a home school group. This means that Monday through Thursday, we leave in the early afternoon and we are home anywhere from 5:15-6:15.  Do you see where I'm going with this???

On Monday, I was thinking it would be nice to dust off my crockpot and use it every once in awhile. By Thursday I was clawing through the internet, looking for as many crockpot recipes as I could find that would fit our dietary style. By Sunday, I decided I needed to get a second crockpot (I have one of those huge 6 quart ones) that could be used for smaller meals and sides. Today, I'm looking for a cookbook and trying to figure out every last thing that can be thrown into the crockpot.

Yes, today I love my crockpot!

I say this humbly: I didn't "get" it! Also, these crockpot people aren't crazy, they're awesome!  Thank you, Crockpot People, for figuring out how to make hot chocolate, bread, and dessert in a crockpot!

Our first crockpot meal was this Crockpot Roasted Potatoes recipe.  I don't usually eat butter, but I wanted to make it as written the first time.  Also, my family enjoys butter very much.  They were delicious!!  I'll probably use Olive Oil in a smaller amount next time.  The seasoning was fabulous.

Last night, I made this a scrumptious Vegetable Barley Soup.  I used THIS RECIPE as my guide, but changed several things according to what I had on hand and what would suit my family.  Next time--there will definitely be a next time--I'm going to put 1.25 cups dried white beans in (maybe pre-soaked?) instead of canned.  All in all, it was very inexpensive meal and left a very substantial amount which I'll be throwing in my freezer for another night.  The whole pot was probably roughly $2.50, so $1.25 per meal.  I'll take it!  

The best part about this soup, aside from it being healthy and filling, was that my kids ate it up!  They said they liked it, and there were zero complaints.  Little Gal will dutifully eat, but she will often complain and is quite picky.  It's a little difficult to be patient sometimes.  I figure it's payback for my picky palate as a child.  Sorry, mom!  Also, my husband kept telling me how filling and good it was, and how much he liked barley.

I hope you try this healthy, filling, inexpensive, Crockpot Vegetable Barley Soup!  It's a perfect soup for fall.

8 Cups Water
3 Extra Large Vegetable Bouillon Cubes
1 Scant Cup Uncooked Pearl Barley
1 Onion, Chopped
3 Celery Stocks, Chopped
3 Carrots, Chopped
4 Large Red Potatoes, Chopped (I'm sure you could use any)
3/4 Cup *Pasta Sauce, Tomato Sauce, Chopped Tomatoes, or Canned Diced Tomatoes 
1 Can White or Navy Beans, Drained
3 Bay Leaves, discard just before serving
1 tsp Salt
1 tsp Sugar
1 tsp Garlic Powder, Granulated
1/4 tsp Ground Pepper
2 tsp Dried Parsley
1 tsp Curry Powder
1 tsp Paprika
2 tsp Worcestershire Sauce

Throw everything--as called for--into the crockpot.  Cook on Low for eight hours.  Remove Bay leaves when cooking is complete.  You may need or want to add more water if it gets too thick.  Serve warm with a crust of bread or homemade rolls.

*It just needs a hint of tomato. I had some leftover Garlic-Basil Tomato Sauce, and it worked great!

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

How to Make a Scrappy Pumpkin Craft

It's Fall and I'm so excited! I love all of the cozy things we have to eat, special treats, pumpkins, candles, and decorations.

And CRAFTS!  Don't forget about the crafts!  I'm not sure about your pinterest boards, or the blogs you follow, but mine are booming with this craft or that craft.

Here is a simple one that we created at our home school group last week.  All of the kiddos participated (aged 2-5) and had fun creating their own unique design.

You can use any pumpkin printout, or just color one of your own, but I chose this PUMPKIN one for its simplicity and ease of use.

Our kids had fun making them, but wouldn't they be cute invitations?  Or framed?  Or maybe as place cards?  I think they'd be super cute, just size it down or up accordingly.

Ready to make one?

Here's what you'll need:

*1 Pumpkin Outline
* Pile of scrap papers in different colors (I used scrapbook paper cut into 2.5" strips, but construction would work too!)
* Glue stick
* Scissors
* Markers or crayons

First off, Color your pumpkin.  This is where our kids got really creative!  You'll be cutting around the outline of the pumpkin, so it's ok if a little gets outside of the lines, and also, you don't want to spend time coloring out there.  It's just going to get cut off.

Now you want to flip your paper over.  Grab the scraps, and make sure all sides of the scraps have glue on them.  Layer, lay in rows, whatever!  Just make sure glue is covering the back of each piece.  Also, make sure that the scraps go just outside of the outline of the pumpkin.  This is where it's nice if you can see through the paper to cover the outline.

See?  No need to glue scraps on the whole paper.  You're just going to cut it off!  Allow to dry.

Now, flip your paper back over, and cut out the pumpkin along the outside line of your pumpkin outline.  Some kids might need help here, but the bigger kids did a great job with that thick black line.

You're Finished!  Enjoy your fun, Scrappy Pumpkin and enjoy your Fall!