Monday, November 2, 2009

Amish Baked Oatmeal

I've only tried one recipe of baked oatmeal so far, so I don't know if it's the best version out there, but it was good. It needs to sit in the fridge overnight so you do need to make it the night before, but that makes the next morning easy. I try to make a good breakfast on Saturday mornings, so recipes like this cut down on the time required.

It's easy enough that it would work on weekday mornings also, but for me it's not really worth it since I'm the only on that eats breakfast at home, even though leftovers reheat well.

Amish Baked Oatmeal

2 eggs
3/4 c. brown sugar
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. cinnamon or nutmeg
1/4 tsp. salt
1/3 c. butter, melted
1 1/8 c. milk
3 c. oats (quick or old-fashioned)

Grease a 1 1/2 quart baking dish. Add eggs and beat well. Mix in sugar, baking powder, vanilla, cinnamon/nutmeg, and salt until smooth. Whisk in butter and milk, then stir in oats. Refrigerate overnight. Bake at 350 for 35-45 minutes, or until the center is set. Serve hot with warm milk poured over top.

***
It was really sweet, so the sugar could easily be cut back a bit in my opinion. Also, I didn't serve it with milk because that sounded unusual to me, but I do recommend it because this does end up a bit dry. I had some of the leftovers with milk poured over it, and it was very good.

I did make it with the quick oats, so I would probably increase the amount of milk next time, especially if using the old-fashioned oats.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Vanilla-Scented Granola

I love oats for breakfast. It's taken me a while, but I've adjusted to getting me and the boy out the door (on time!) in the mornings, and I don't skip breakfast anymore. However, I rarely have the time to make myself a bowl of oatmeal.

Let me clarify. I COULD make oatmeal each morning, but one of two things happens: I either make it too early so it can cool while I get Henry up, and by the time I eat it it has turned into a cold, dry plate of mush which I proceed to gag down; OR I make it after I get Henry up and it is still too hot for me when we need to leave, so I quick dump it in a tupperware and take it along with me, but by the time I drop the boy off and get to work, settle in, and haul out my breakfast, it's a cold, lumpy pile of much which I proceed to swallow without chewing or tasting.

And that is why I love granola. The convenience of a box of cereal, but the goodness of whole grain oats, with lots of taste. And I've been known to stir in vanilla yogurt in place of milk. I've tried several different recipes in the past few months, and while I wouldn't complain about any of them, one stands out as my favorite: Vanilla-Scented Granola. While I usually make changes, here is the basic recipe:

Vanilla-Scented Granola

4 c. old-fashioned oats
1 c. sliced almonds
1/2 c. brown sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. cinnamon
1/3 c. canola oil
1/4 c. honey
2 Tbsp. sugar
4 tsp. vanilla

Mix together oats, almonds, brown sugar, salt, and cinnamon in a large bowl (I use my roasting pan for mixing and baking). Combine oil, honey, and sugar in a small saucepan and heat to a simmer over medium heat. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla; pour over oats and stir well.

Spread on lightly greased baking sheet (I use my roasting pan because it reduces the risk of burnt granola for me). Bake at 300 until golden brown, 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove to rack to cool, stirring several times.

For clumpy granola, bake without stirring and allow to cool in pan for 10 minutes. Remove with spatula and break apart.

* * *
The last time I made this, I added wheat germ, ground flax seed, replaced the almonds with sunflower seed and chopped walnuts. I often add dried cranberries to my bowl, also.

I like to measure the oil before the honey so the honey pours out of the measuring cup easily, and this time I probably added about 1/3 cup of honey. It was slightly clumpy, which is good, but I took it out of the oven and had to quick run somewhere, and by the time I came back it was a solid piece of granola which required some coaxing to get it out. So that's why I recommend stirring while it cools.

Next Monday I'll have a delicious weekend version of oats that we loved!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Caramel Crunch Bars


I don't remember what blog I saw this posted on, but I do remember that it is originally from Dorie Greenspan's "Baking, From My Home to Yours" cookbook.

They are delicious and slightly addictive, but don't quite make the 54 servings in the original recipe (I like them bigger).

Caramel Crunch Bars

1 1/2 c. flour
1 tsp. instant espresso powder or finely ground instant coffee*
1/2 tsp. salt (I like to use Kosher)
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1 c. butter, room temp
1/2 c. brown sugar
1/4 c. sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
3 oz. bittersweet or premium milk chocolate, chopped (I used milk chocolate chips)

Topping:
6 oz. milk chocolate, chopped (or chips)
3/4 c. Heath toffee bits

Whisk flour, coffee*, salt, and cinnamon. Beat butter until smooth; add sugars and beat until light and creamy then add vanilla. Add the dry ingredients and beat slowly until almost incorporated. Add chocolate and mix only until dry ingredients are mixed in. It will be a heavy and sticky dough. Pat into a thin layer in a greased 9x13 pan (can line with greased foil). Bake at 375 for 20-22 minutes or until bubbly. Scatter chocolate on top and return to oven for 2-3 minutes. Remove and spread chocolate around and sprinkle with toffee bits, pressing down lightly. Cool on rack. You may need to refrigerate later to get chocolate to set completely.

*If you use the instant coffee, I would dissolve it in the vanilla and just add it when it calls for the vanilla.

When I made these, I made my own toffee since I had everything else on hand, and I wasn't sure the local grocery store carried the toffee bits - I only remember seeing the chocolate covered kind, which would probably work fine. I'd post my toffee recipe (which was really good, especially after it got humid and the leftovers turned into this delicious-tasting substance that just dissolved on your tongue), but I don't know what happened to it.

Enjoy!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Chocolate and Pumpkin Cupcakes

So even though it seems that we've skipped fall and jumped into winter, my recipes have been reflecting the fall season, namely pumpkin.

My cousin (well, she married my cousin so does that make her my cousin-in-law?) Jessica has been posting some pumpkin recipes which may have inspired me. ;)

This week I made Chocolate Muffins with Pumpkin Frosting, which I found at the Tasty Kitchen. They were really good, but the muffin part was a bit finicky for me. Slightly over half full and they spilled over the edges and were difficult to separate from the pan. And they definitely did not dome like a cupcake, so there's a thick layer of frosting to cover where the middles settled down. I did add a little more powdered sugar to thicken the frosting, but it was still a little thin to spread smoothly, in my opinion. But I'm all about taste, not looks, so these were still good.

Chocolate Muffins with Pumpkin Frosting

Muffins:
  • 2 c. flour
  • 1 c. cocoa (dark was recommended, I used my regular Dutched cocoa)
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 c. (2 sticks) butter, room temperature
  • 3 c. sugar
  • 5 eggs
  • 2 tsp. vanilla
  • 1 c. buttermilk
Sift together the flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a separate bowl.

Cream together butter and sugar and beat until fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing just to blend, then add vanilla. Alternately add the flour mixture and the buttermilk until combined. Mix well until smooth, about 30 seconds.

Grease muffin tins or line with paper cups. Fill halfway and bake at 325 for 15-18 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean - do not overbake, they are very moist. Cool in pan about 2 minutes then remove to cool on a wire rack.

This can also be baked in 2 greased loaf pans. Increase baking time to about 65 minutes. (I only have one muffin tin, so partway through I was wishing I had taken this suggestion since I ended up with 3 1/2 dozen muffins.)

Frosting:
  • 1/2 c. (1 stick) butter, softened
  • 8 oz. cream cheese (I use the 1/3 less fat Naufchatal cheese)
  • 3 1/2 c. powdered sugar
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp. ginger
  • 1/2 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1/2 c. canned pumpkin
Beat cream cheese, add butter and beat until smooth. Add remaining ingredients and mix on medium speed. You can refrigerate frosting before icing the cakes, which makes it slightly stiffer and easier to spread.

But if you make them, be prepared to share!

Friday, October 9, 2009

Sidetracked Passions

I loved reading.

Up until probably my college years, I was always in the middle of a book. Even when I was in grade school, I remember pulling the sheets over my head and reading with a flashlight when I was supposed to be sleeping.

I still love a good book, but only in the past few months have I realized it's not a lack of time that's stopping me from being the avid reader I used to be.

Most nights I'm curled up on the couch next to Doug watching "reality" TV shows. Not the "get a group of people together and pit them against each other and watch the madness ensue" type of reality. I mean "Dirty Jobs," "Ice Road Truckers," "American Loggers," "Wrecked" (tow trucks), "Deadliest Catch" (fishing/crabbing in the Bering Sea).

I don't mind them for the most part, but some days I'm just not in the mood to watch someone else work, if I'm even in the mood to watch TV at all. So I've taken to reading, even though
Doug gives me a hard time (in a joking way).

A perfect solution, I thought.

The problem is that once a book pulls me in, I can't read just a few chapters a night. For example, I checked out "House" on Tuesday afternoon and read the first two or three chapters that night. But by the time we went to bed on Wednesday, I was slightly over halfway, and by the time Doug got home from work on Thursday I was finished. This was a 372 page book, granted I enjoyed that the pages had decent size type and spacing between the lines that made it easier and faster to read.

But, I didn't get much (if anything) done on Thursday, because I just HAD to finish it. Henry loved it because I finally let him play in the car again, and for over an hour, while I finished the book in the passenger seat.

So now I will force myself to return this book without checking out another, because getting wrapped up in the world of a book is fun, but my real world could use some attention for a while.

Here's to reading and good books. What good books have you read lately?

Monday, September 21, 2009

How to Make Spinach Delicious

My little boy, who is usually good about eating, already has an aversion to green, leafy things on his plate. He can overlook crumbs and dirt stuck to a peach I had missed under the table, but will sit there and pick out tiny green leaves mixed in with his food.

I also needed a solution for the nights that Doug and I have things that aren't very toddler friendly and hard to eat.

One night, when Henry and I were on our own for supper, I tried a recipe for spinach pie. He inhaled it, while I only thought it was edible, until I had leftovers for dinner the next day and it tasted much better than the night before. It was the perfect solution: Henry loved it, it was easy, plus I could make it early in the afternoon. (This is the closest I will get to making separate meals for picky family members).


Secretly Delicious Spinach Pie - original version
My version:

1 flour tortilla
5 eggs
2 Tbsp. milk
1/4 tsp. lemon pepper
kosher salt, to taste
1 c. shredded mozzarella
2 c. fresh spinach

Place tortilla in cake or pie pan and sprinkle with about half of the cheese. Place spinach and remaining cheese on top and press down gently. Whisk together eggs, milk, lemon pepper, and salt, and pour over top. (I don't worry about it getting under the tortilla since we don't care that it's not crispy). Bake at 365 for 30-40 minutes or until set.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Beautiful Blue-eyed Boy


We've been remodeling one of three houses for the past 5 1/2+ years, and are still in the middle of a project on this house with many more to come. I've learned to accept the mess and the unfinished attitude that goes along with it, but sometimes I just want to see something done.

The two bedrooms and the hallway upstairs are finished (besides the hole Doug put in our bedroom wall while clearing out the storage room for insulation), but Henry's room is the only slightly "decorated" room in the house.

Doug's distant cousins from North Carolina stopped by when they were in the area and wanted to see our house since they were starting a major fix up themselves. They got to our bedroom and said we were minimalists. You see, we have a good sized room, with a walk in closet, but there is nothing but our bed in the middle of the room. There's blinds on the window, but nothing on the walls, no nightstands for the lamp and alarm clock. Even Doug once wished out loud that our home would look more "finished."

But, since extra money is going towards our remodeling projects, I can't go get a bunch of tables, art, plants, frames, and mirrors to make our home all stylish. So even though Doug wants to get away from the homemade look (all of the "art" in our previous houses were landscape posters in plain square frames he made, which is fine, but not the mature look he/we want), I thought I could make some of my own art for some walls.

I want to take some close up photos of plants, or flowers, or even just designs, but haven't gotten to that (along with a long list of other to-dos), so I started with what I do have - tons of photos of a cute little boy with gorgeous blue eyes. I thought I did a good job of making it artsy, stuck it in a make-do frame (out dated cabinet door samples that look like nice frames), but Doug saw it setting on my desk and called it creepy.

You tell me. Cutesy, creative, or creepy? Because I am biased towards the little boy in the photo.


PS - I'm going to do my best to post at least once a week.

Friday, July 10, 2009

A New Look


My sisters should be proud.

I bought shoes based on the "cute" factor for, like, the first time ever.

Typically I would have bought the plain black ones even though they were satiny, just 'cause black goes with everything. They were in my hands, dangling inches away from the bottom of the cart.

But.... They just weren't cute. I needed a pair of sandals besides my kitten heels, and I was after function. And I'm still surprised by my choice, but they still go with about anything, and even if they don't, at least they're cute!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Summer Food

My meal rotation has been working pretty good, a few kinks here and there (I had Beef Stroganoff and Shell Casserole in the same week, and they were pretty much the same thing, just that one was cooked in the crock pot).

But now that the weather's getting warmer, we need some lighter meals for more than one reason. Doug is back to eating more than one meal a day, which means he doesn't inhale the food at supper time. And I don't know why, but have either a casserole and vegetable, or a meat, side dish and vegetable is "going overboard" and tells me I don't need to do that much work. I just roll my eyes and tell him it's not that much work to steam some vegetables.

On to my point, though.

I'm looking for some good, light meals, and would love to hear your favorites. My husband's selective picky-ness rules out almost all of my favorites, which often include beans, tomato chunks, tuna, spinach...

Here's my favorite summer lunch:

Chicken Salad Sandwiches

2 c. cooked chicken, shredded
1/4 tsp. pepper
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 c. mayonnaise
1/4 c. chopped walnuts
1/2 c. grapes (red or green), halved

Combine all ingredients and serve on bread or buns with lettuce.

What's yours?

Friday, April 17, 2009

Relaxation

I'm glad yesterday is over. The contractor lunch at the lumberyard wasn't tons of work, but I'm not cut out to be a party planner. Of course, if I was a party planner, I would have had more time to dedicate to thinking planning rather than just a few minutes here and there.

There wasn't a big turnout, so the contractors that came were well fed and we have over half of everything left. The meat is easy to freeze, and were were kind of planning on some extra to grill for the guys throughout the summer. The potato salad got divvied up and taken home since that won't keep long, and the chips are still in bags. But what to do with over 8 dozen each of brat buns and hamburger buns?

But I'm ready to relax.

Today is supposed to be nice, and I'm going to speed clean my house and make dessert for small group while the boy naps. I'll wake Henry up mid-afternoon so we can play outside and get really tired so he will go to bed a little early.

Next week is supposed to be sunny and in the 70s all week, so we are going to take it easy, help Doug get the deck finished (or at least make major progress), and enjoy taking in the sun and the fresh air and getting some exercise. I'm so ready for that!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Shortbread

I've done a lot of baking lately, and have been trying out a bunch of new recipes. I may try to catch up later, but there were a LOT of chocolate recipes we enjoyed, like World Peace Cookies and homemade chocolate pudding.

But yesterday I took a much-needed step back from the chocolate, and instead made Twice-Baked Shortbread which was really good. I got the recipe from a blog a while back, so I don't remember where I got it from.


Twice-Baked Shortbread

12 Tbsp. butter (1 1/2 sticks), melted and still warm
5 Tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 tsp. salt
1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
sugar for sprinkling

-Baking pan with removable bottom (9 1/2" round, 4x14" rectangle) greased, or 8" square baking dish lined with foil (leave overhang on two sides).

Combine melted butter with sugar, vanilla, and salt; add flour and mix just until incorporated. Press into bottom of prepared pan, and let rest for at least 2 hours (no need to refrigerate).

Place rack in lower 1/3 of oven and preheat to 300 F. Bake shortbread for 45 minutes. Take out and sprinkle with sugar; let cool for 10 minutes, leaving oven on. Remove from pan carefully and use a sharp thin knife cut it into squares/wedges/fingers. Places pieces slightly apart on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper and bake 15 minutes. Cool on rack.


They were really good and a nice break from our usual super-sweet desserts. I did have a "Millionaire's Shortbread Bars" recipe which was topped with caramel and chocolate, but we'll save that for another time.

Today my afternoon will be spent in and out of the kitchen again. I have 175 brats to boil for our lunch at work tomorrow. I can fit about 2 dozen in my stock pot and about 1 1/2 dozen in my dutch oven, so only four more rounds to go. I'm sure I'll have a mess with all the times the water will boil over and piles of brats to be cooked and piles of brats cooling.

But at least I don't have to make supper tonight!

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Woman to Woman

I'm not going to go into much detail in this post, but I do have a product to recommend.

It will only be useful to women of child-bearing years, so the rest of you need not waste your time. I stumbled across it on a message board one day, and am glad that I took a chance and tried it, even though I hadn't known there was an alternative to tampons until then.

The Diva Cup

It works so much better for me and I've always wondered why it's not more widely known. So I'm trying to spread the word without offering up too much information. :)

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Healthy Eats

I've got granola in the oven right now, and am wondering why it has been so long since I made it. I think for some reason I imagines it was more time consuming than it really is; the toughest thing is scraping the honey out of the measuring cup. (I use butter, but some recipes call for oil instead and a good tip is to measure the oil first and then your honey slides right out.)

That got me thinking about some healthier takes on regular foods. I think the two most successful recipes that I got from this book are recipes for burgers and pancakes.

Cheesy Black Bean Burgers

15 oz. black beans (1 can or 1 1/2 c.)
1 lb. ground beef
1 egg, beaten
1 c. shredded cheddar
1/3 c. seasoned bread crumbs
1/2 tsp. garlic powder

Drain and rinse beans; mash until mostly smooth. Mix in remaining ingredients and shape into 8 patties.

But it's flexible. I don't ever have seasoned bread crumbs, but I do have stale bread in the freezer (I never measure though). And seasonings are usually Mrs. Dash, Original is what I think I have on hand. So good, and my husband has never guessed that there's beans in them.

Hearty Cornmeal Apple Pancakes

2 eggs
1 3/4 c. milk
2/3 c. all-purpose flour
2/3 c. whole wheat flour
2/3 c. cornmeal
1/3 c. wheat germ
1/3 c. sugar
1 Tbsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 apple, peeled and finely chopped
1/4 c. pecans (opt)
1/4 c. mini chocolate chips (opt)

Whisk together eggs and milk. Whisk together dry ingredients; combine with egg mixture and stir until blended. Add apple. Pour onto skillet (1/4 c. = 4" cakes) and top with optional ingredients. Flip when bottom is golden and top is bubbly.

I made this without any of the optional ingredients and they were a hit. And a little more nutrition than our usual bisquick or hungry jack version.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Why Real Moms Childproof Their Homes

Real moms don't childproof the house for the child's safety; real moms do it to save a tiny bit of energy for the end of the day.

We went with Doug's mom to visit his grandpa, along with the three nieces, and had a mini birthday party for him. We got there around 7:00 and only stayed for an hour, but it felt like 3 hours. It was a small room, lots of knick knacks and breakable stuff, so was constantly chasing him, distracting him, walking up and down the hallway with him, and by the time we got home I was ready to collapse. I think I could have run for an hour and been less tired (maybe a little more out of breath, though).

So I am thankful for doors I can close and the freedom to move everything out of his reach at home. :)

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Menu Madness

I've been trying to find a plan that works for me when it comes to meal planning and making menus and grocery lists. It usually comes down to empty cupboards, creative meal creation (which, I must say, I am quite good at), and finally sitting down for over an hour creating a menu plan for the next two weeks, then procrastinating since this would often happen on Monday and the grocery sale flier comes on Tuesday evenings. And I know I made this waaaaay too much work as of late, since I've been falling into the habit of needing to have new meal ideas, for no other reason than my own boredom.

My current plan, which I have great hope for, was actually inspired by my dad, I believe. I was talking to Mom one time and expressing frustrations (see previous paragraph), and she mentioned that Dad had told her to make a menu for two weeks and just keep repeating it. I suggested some alterations, and a few weeks ago it dawned on me that I should try this method.

So I sat down and set up a six-week meal plan that we'll repeat about 4 times, or for the next 6 months. I only plan one meal a day, since lunches and Sunday evenings are leftovers or 'help yourself" meals. I also left one day a week empty to allow me to try out one new meal or for a night we won't be home. (This also saves Doug from suffering three new 'trial' meals in a row) And some of my meals allow for variation, such as my general "Soup" meal. I set up a column for the main dish, side dish, and vegetables, but not all meals have something in each category, since I don't think I need an extra vegetable to go with our pork and cabbage sandwiches.

I formatted the tables with each day of the week, more to keep track of whether we're home for Sunday dinner than anything. On the back of each week's menu, I have a grocery list divided out by section (produce, canned, meat, dairy...) which I copy over (two weeks at a time) and add what's needed for the extra meal.

So every other Monday (payday) I'll do our main grocery shopping, and the next Monday I'll go and get the produce needed for that week, along with milk, eggs, bread, etc.

I had great ambitions for doing once a month cooking, or some variation of that. Well, I'm not sure it's for me. I have been collecting chicken and recipes to do a bunch of chicken meals, but that's more to get some handy meals back in the freezer.

What has been working for me is doing food prep the day I go to the grocery store. I buy ground beef and ground turkey and combine the two, since ground turkey is about half the price but I just didn't like the taste of it when I substituted it for beef. The half and half mixture works fine for me though. So while my hands are dirty, I'll usually divide it back up and make any meals I can (meatloaf, burgers) and put the remaining pounds to be browned in bags, then all goes in the freezer. Same with chicken - I'll clean it (I HAVE to cut all the visible fat off), then slice it in half (the fresh chicken breasts from the deli are quite thick) and flash freeze on a cookie sheet, or cut it up for a "dump" recipe - I cut this week's into strips, and dumped the mixture for teriyaki marinade in it so it can marinate while thawing.

Hopefully this meal rotation works as well as I hope it does. It may need to have some kinks worked out as I go, but this is better than having to start from scratch every other week.

Now, if only I could figure out how to organize my recipes. Recipe software sounds good for many reasons, but not being able to spread them out on the floor around me while planning might be a problem, although it would be nice to search your recipes when you have 1/4# of pork sausage to use up.

Life, Continued

Yesterday was the Big Day. After work I kept busy by running errands, getting groceries, and doing some food prep for the week. I thought I was fine, but by the time it was time for the meeting my stomach was turning and I had a tension headache that would not go away (not sure if I slept wrong or if it was nerves, but the muscles in my neck HURT).

Rob started the meeting off with some general thanks and appreciation, then drew out "and the new owners are..." and the guys piped up with "sitting right here" and looked at Doug and I. So yeah, try as hard as you want to but you can never keep the rumors away. In a way it was a good thing they had heard rumors so the announcement wasn't a shock, but it would have been nice if they had even hinted that they knew to relieve some of the pressure from us.

We've been having some meetings today to get the ball rolling for the transition so word will spread fast now. But it's official!

Doug and I will own the lumberyard as of April 1, and it will become Hubers Lumber and Home Center, Inc.

Crazy.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Crazy Times

February is a short month, and we had a lot crammed in it.

-A first birthday and the party to go with it
-Teething, troublesome ears, and 3 doctor visits which resulted in:
-Surgery for our 1-year-old to put tubes in
-And planning and making decisions for a life-changing situation, which isn't 100% official until tomorrow and won't be announced until Monday

I'm not stressed, but slightly overwhelmed. And when I feel overwhelmed I accomplish zilch, hence the lack of posts.

And now off to tend to an unhappy camper that just woke up and needs some food.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

I Feel Like a Maid

We've been making fast progress on the room we're turning into an office, but with that comes a lot of un-contained messes since all the doors are off. Normally during these projects, I spent the time helping Doug and completely ignored the mess throughout the house until we were finished stirring up dirt, dust, and trash. Now we have a little one that loves to explore and doesn't care if he has to crawl through an inch of dust to get to a fascinating tool or whatever is in his eyesight.

In an attempt to not have a white little ghost crawling around the house, I've been vacuuming, sweeping, mopping, or dusting almost every other day for the past few weeks. And there have been a few chunks of sheetrock and who knows what else that have been in and out of his little mouth.

So in that spirit, I thought I'd share some of my cleaning tips.

To save some money and cut back on the number of chemicals used around the house, I've been starting to use vinegar and baking soda as I use up the cleaners I have left. Some of them I learned from Mom or just over the years, but www.vinegartips.com has a lot of solutions for cooking, cleaning, and laundry using vinegar. My main uses so far are these:

*Toilet: dump about 1 cup of vinegar in and let it set for a while then scrub clean. It worked better for me than any other toilet cleaner and brush I've ever used.

*Microwave: dilute vinegar with water in a mug; place in the microwave on high for about 1 minute. All the cooked on, dried on splatters wipe right off.

*Drains: pour some baking soda down the drain, followed by warm vinegar. Let set for a little while then rinse - it cleans and deoderizes.

This also works for floor drains in your basement. A little while after moving in here, we realized we were having problems with water backing up in the basement. Not sewage, but the drain couldn't carry the water away as fast as it drained. We had it roto-rootered - twice - and still had problems. Doug tried the baking soda and vinegar on it, and maybe it's a coincidence, but we haven't had problems since. He probably used about a box of baking soda and over a gallon of vinegar, but that's cheaper than a plumber!

If you sew, I've also heard that polar fleece + warm water + vinegar will clean anything. The fleece holds up and washes well, and won't scratch any surface.

A solution of 1:1 of water and hydrogen peroxide can be used in the kitchen to spray down countertops and cutting boards to kill germs. I haven't tried this yet because I've been meaning to test if diluted peroxide can bleach stuff (even though my countertop is old, outdated and will be replaced sometime).

You can also use peroxide for a stain treater, using 1 part each of laundry detergent, peroxide, and water - spray and rub. I should test this on an old t-shirt. It would be nice to have a solution other than having Henry walk around with dingy looking shirts where he spills food or drools it out after I take his bib off.

And my best laundry tip has nothing to do with getting stains out or anything like that. I use one of those mesh laundry bags for Henry's little socks. The main reason I started using one was because our front-load washing machine has a rubber ring around the opening, and his little sock would get wedged and lost in the gap. But it has been nice to have his socks all together and not spread out through the load of wash, and even more helpful if I had two sizes of little socks to separate.

Off to clean some more...

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Holiday Recipes

I made a few new and a few old recipes throughout the holiday season that were enjoyed, so I thought I would share them.

Sweet Caramel Crunch
8 c. chex
8 c. pretzel twists
10 oz. mixed nuts
2 c. brown sugar
1 c. butter
1/2 c. light corn syrup
1/2 tsp. baking soda

Combine cereal, pretzels, and nuts in a large bowl. Bring sugar, butter, and syrup to a boil; boil for 1 1/2 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and stir in baking soda; pour over cereal mix and stir well. Microwave on high for 4 minutes, stirring once each minute. Spread on waxed paper to cool.

But, since I don't follow directions... I used only peanuts, changed the amounts of chex and pretzels each time (the second time I made it I was only allowed to put in less than half the pretzels since my husband won't eat them). And since I didn't have a bowl that would hold all of the mix and fit in the microwave, the first time I used the oven at like 200, stirring it every 5 minutes for 15 minutes, and the second time used the microwave (since my husband was impatiently waiting for the finished product) but did it in smaller batches for only 2 minutes. Basically, you can't mess this up. :)

Herbed Monkey Bread
3-3 1/2 c. flour, divided
2 Tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. salt
1/4 oz pkg. active dry yeast
1 1/4 c. milk
2 Tbsp. canola oil
4 Tbsp. melted butter, divided
1 egg
2 Tbsp. Parmesan
1 Tbsp. sesame seeds
1/2 tsp. garlic salt
1/2 tsp. paprika
1/2 tsp. dried parsley
1/2 tsp. dried thyme
1/2 tsp. crushed rosemary

Combine 2 c. flour, sugar, salt, and yeast. Heat milk, oil, and 2 Tbsp. butter to 120-130 degrees and add to dry ingredients. Beat just until moistened; add egg and beat until smooth. Stir in enough flour to form a soft dough; knead until smooth and elastic, about 6-8 minutes. (I love the dough hook on my mixer!) Place in greased bowl, cover, and let rise until doubled, about 1 hour. Combine cheese, seeds, garlic, paprika, parsley, thyme, and rosemary. Punch dough down and divide into 32 balls. Coat pan (it called for a bundt pan, but I just used a 2 qt. casserole dish) with cooking spray and drizzle with 2 tsp. butter and sprinkle 1/3 cheese mix on bottom. Place 16 balls in pan, drizzle 2 tsp. butter, 1/3 cheese mix, and repeat. Cover and let rise until doubled, about 30 minutes. Bake at 350 for 30-35 minutes or until golden brown. Cool 10 minutes in pan then turn out bread.

Pumpkin Surprise Pie
1 pie crust
Cream Cheese Layer:
8 oz. cream cheese, softened
1/3 c. sugar
3/4 tsp. vanilla
1 egg
Pumpkin Layer:
1 c. pumpkin (I used a whole can the second time I made this and didn't have a problem)
1/2 c. brown sugar
3/4 c. evaporated milk
2 eggs
1 1/2 tsp. pumpkin pie spice (I substituted the spices listed in the pie recipe on the can label)
1/4 tsp. salt

Beat cream cheese and sugar; add vanilla and egg until smooth; spread in pie crust.
Beat pumpkin, sugar, milk, eggs, spices, and salt until smooth. Gently pour over cheese layer. Bake at 400 for 15 minutes, then 350 for 45 minutes. You can cover the edges with foil after the first 15 minutes, but I didn't need to.

A note about cream cheese - I use the naufchatal cheese, usually labeled as the 1/3 less fat cream cheese, for anything that calls for cream cheese. I've heard the fat free cream cheese can cause texture changes, and since I usually don't by fat-free anything, I liked the 1/3 less fat.

And, anytime you make something like a cheese cake, cream the cream cheese (I usually add the sugar too) first. One time while making a cheese cake I dumped the cheese, sugar, eggs, and vanilla in all at once. No matter how long or how hard I beat it using different attachments, I could not make it smooth. Doug and I did not enjoy eating that lumpy cheesecake. :)

Christmas Roundup Part 2

I had high ambitions when I started the Christmas season. My mother-in-law likes candles, so I was going to make my own and make a centerpiece. Well, I discovered it would take way too much money to buy what I needed to make the candles, as well as too much time, so I bought some plain candles and decorated them myself. Add a decorative plate, some rocks, and I was happy with the result. However, since I didn't end up making the candles, the colors weren't what I was planning on and after taking this picture I ended up exchanging the plate for a white and black one that matched better.

I remember playing with a block set that had scenes from a book at my Grandma's house. I had Doug cut of pieces of wood to make building blocks for Henry, and while he was at it asked him to make some square ones. I printed out six pictures, cut them to fit the blocks, then went to town gluing, sanding, and mod podging. I came up with this idea lying in bed the Sunday before Christmas since I wasn't happy with how the I-Spy bags were turning out, so I was grateful that my mom (who is much more experienced with the sewing machine than I am) helped out and made a cute little carry bag for the blocks.

Now, for my pride and joy. :) My mom had gotten a coffee table passed on from my sister, but it had an empty hole where glass used to be. I knew she had talked about wanting to tile something to fill in the center but knew there wasn't much chance for it to get done since she didn't think she could do it herself. So I was all excited about this idea, went snooping around her house and couldn't find the table anywhere.

I tried to be vague (not sure if I succeeded) and asked what happened to it (since I had already needed to ask my mom to get some extra/broken tiles from my dad), and she said it went out with the trash. So. I didn't have a plan B. And I decided to make my own table. And my husband got involved which resulted in a perfectly smooth, seamless table. So I got to have my fun smashing tile, meticulously arranging it, gluing it down, caulking, grouting, and cleaning. I finished washing off the grout at 3:00, December 26. We left for the party at 4:00. :)

I hope my mom likes it as much as I do. It was pretty fun, although it took a bit of time, and I have plans of making some for bedside tables. We'll see.

Christmas Roundup

I would say my handmade Christmas was a success. Some things I would probably change, but over all no major regrets or drastic problems. I did get sick the weekend before Christmas, and not wanting to get off the couch did make it a bit of a rush to get things done, although I can't say I wouldn't have finished any sooner if I hadn't gotten sick.

I made these I-Spy bags for two of my nieces. The older one just got a tag with a list of the objects to find, but the younger one doesn't read yet so I printed off pictures, stuck magnets to the backs, and put the in an Altoid tin I covered with scrapbook paper. They turned out fine, and the reactions were better than I expected (especially from the older niece), but since I had gotten the idea from Etsy this is the one gift I wished I had bought instead of made. I also got jewelry making supplies for my older niece, and made picture blocks (next post) for my younger niece.

My brother-in-law had Stuffitts on his list, but the local sports store didn't have anything like them. I found a tutorial on CraftStylish for shoe submarines. They were easy to make and went along with his other gift, so I'm hoping they're effective, but if not no big loss.
I wanted to get the ladies at daycare something since we could not ask for better care givers for our little boy, but didn't have a lot to spend. I got some melt and pour soap and made Honey Oatmeal Scrub Soap, Fireside Cappuccino mix, a CD case calendar, and some Sweet Caramel Crunch mix.

They both loved it, and one said that even her doctor noticed that her skin was less dry after using the soap and said I could should sell it.

I also gave a package to my mom who watches Henry on Mondays - minus the chex mix because my husband ate it all before I had a chance to set some more aside.

Five Years

It's hard to believe we celebrated 5 years together yesterday. Some days it feels like just yesterday we were adjusting to being on our own together, and other days it feels like we've been together forever - in a good way!

We're both home bodies to the core, so we didn't have any big plans. Now I'm not saying a trip way down south wouldn't have been nice, but we also had to consider our budget. I had been talking for a few weeks about going snowboarding some Saturday, since we have the equipment yet hardly take the time (or money) to go. Monday Doug decided that was a good idea, but he didn't want to go on the weekend and Tuesday was the only free day for us so Tuesday it was.

We had gotten some gift certificates from work and needed to pick up a few things for our current project around the house, so we did that first. We got to Sioux Falls around 10:00, tried to spend our Scheels gift certificate, but spent an hour that wore both of us out. And I happened to run into my sister's roommate's mom, who thought I was my sister. I've learned to respond to both of our names. :)

After that, we went and got a fireplace, lights, miscellaneous necessities to get the office wired, and by then it was after 1:00. We needed food. So we treated ourselves to Granite City, and a piece of cake that cost as much as each of our sandwiches. And now it was 2:00.

Discounted lift rates start at 3:00. We were worn out from shopping. And there's an issue we've been dealing with since our first year of marriage that cropped up again while we were out. Want to know how it all started?

The summer of our first year of marriage, I got my passport. We were going to take a trip to visit Doug's sister in Nicaragua, and we were both looking forward to it. Then...

We decided to replace the windows in our house and didn't have the funds for windows and an international trip.

And now, for the past five years, our house (whichever one it may be at the time) seems to take up all our time, money, and energy. And shopping for our house on Tuesday took up all our time, money, and energy that would have otherwise been spent snowboarding.

Oh well, I'm starting to think we're too old for snowboarding anyway. :)

(And we did have a good day - without the snowboarding.)

On another note, we were sitting in the restaurant and there was a table not far away that had some women, probably two sisters and their mom. And there was a little boy that had to close in age to ours, and I was watching them/him and starting to miss Henry but didn't dare say anything to Doug. But as we were discussing whether we really felt like snowboarding, Doug came out and said he thought he just wanted to see Henry. So at least it's not just me.