Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Summer Lovin'

Tomatoes still warm from the sun, yum! I love these mini colanders from World Market, at only  $1.99 each and in really fun colors, they're perfect for everyday use.
I know I've said it before, but I love summer. I love BBQ's, mowing the lawn, family road trips, Fourth of July, hot days spent by a cool pool and kids running and playing in the sunshine. But, most of all, I love summer food. Burgers on the grill, corn on the cob, fresh tomatoes, strawberries, watermelon, ice cream (though that's an all year food for me). You name it, I probably love it.
About a year's worth of Triple Berry Jam  canned and ready to go, plus two quarts of Homemade Strawberry Ice Cream. Do you love summer food yet?

This year was my first year having a garden, so I started very simply with tomatoes, peppers, Walla Walla Sweet Onions, basil and cilantro in one raised bed and strawberries and rhubarb starts in another. I've tried to use the tomatoes and basil as soon as they're ready, which has meant dinners of tomato-basil risotto, BLT's and, my favorite, more caprese than you can shake a stick at!
BLT made with the first Lemon Boy from the garden.
One of my favorite food blogs lately is Our Best Bites. They have great ideas for family cooking, but without a lot of processed foods or casseroles. The other day they had a Zucchini Ribbon Pasta with a lemon cream sauce that was low fat and oh, so satisfying!

As I was pondering my options for the evening's dinner, their daily post came up and it was a Roasted Sweet Corn and Tomato soup. Yum! After my day of freezer cooking, I was all over the chance to have a day of cooking that did not involve meat, and I had everything I needed for the recipe (including the red pepper to roast) except for the corn. A stop at the farm stand up the road quickly remedied that, and I was ready to go! This was a dead simple soup (even with roasting the pepper and corn/tomato mixture), and using my immersion blender meant only one dirty pot, which was quickly washed and put back away. Using foil to line your roasting pan also means that you don't have to clean the pan when you're done, which I love. It was not only simple, but it was delicious! And, true to my make one, freeze one promise, I now have two double servings of it tucked into glass freezer containers for a simple supper down the road. The kids didn't love it, but they ate the grilled cheese that accompanied it just fine, so I was also able to stick to my will-not-be-a-short-order-cook mantra.
A mix of Super Sweet 100's and Porters Dark Cherry Tomatoes, with corn from a local farm stand
Our local butcher shop (which features local, free-range beef, pork and chicken) recently started offering seafood as well. Each Monday, they email those interested with the week's offerings and you have until Wednesday to order, and then pick up the fresh shipment on Friday afternoon or Saturday Morning. This week was my first time ordering, and we got some beautiful salmon, cod and then clams and oysters for J. Pairing the salmon (cooked on the grill in tin foil) with a simple spinach salad and a rustic batard schmeared with delish butter, it was a wonderfully fulfilling summer dinner. 

On the breakfast front, I've been loving a good old stand-by; greek yogurt with a little granola and lots of fresh summer berries. I stumbled across a post on pinterest that added lemon curd to the yogurt for a little tart sweetness. I have a little jar of lemon curd that I've not really known what to do with, and decided to try it out. I had to laugh, however, when I looked at her actual recipe, which called for 2 Tablespoons of Greek Yogurt, 2 Tablespoons of Lemon Curd, and 1 teaspoon of granola. That was it. Seriously?! That's all you eat for breakfast?! I kept the lemon curd at 2 tablespoons, but upped the yogurt to about 1/2 cup and the granola to about 1/4 cup, and added some blueberries. It was so good and the perfect balance of sweet and tart with the sharpness of the yogurt and the tart of the berries and curd. Just for reference, here's what her portions look like in real life:

That is not the gargantuan fiestaware bowl, either, it's the little soup cup. As nobody in the comments section on her blog thought the portions were odd, I didn't want to be the party pooper, so didn't comment, but really? What fast is this breaking, exactly?

Here's what I would consider a 'normal' portion:

The sum total of ingredients is still just about one cup, so not over the top, but definitely satisfying (that's a 1/2 c. measuring cup sitting next to it for reference).

What have you made or grown this summer for the first time?

Monday, August 20, 2012

From Your Own Backyard

Before planting, they were just big ole sandboxes

This has been the year of outdoor projects. In the fall we had our patio extended, so that we could have room for both seating and a table, and take advantage of the gas line to which we could pipe in our grill. We also added a pergola, so our back patio looks like this now, and I love the extra living space!

In the spring, J was scheduled to be gone for a month from mid-April to mid-May, so I knew we'd need to build the raised beds before then, even if I didn't get the planting done. By the time he left, they were built and filled with a mix of soil and compost from the local nursery. We built the beds in one afternoon, using the simple instructions by The Pioneer Woman. Because our side yard has a pretty decent slope, this level-as-you-go plan was the best for us without a ton of work digging trenches, etc. And then there was the added bonus that the day we chose to haul the dirt to our backyard (the gate to which is on the opposite side of the house, so it was done by the wheelbarrow-full) the skies opened after we'd filled the truck bed, so we were literally slopping mud into the beds. It was awesome.
I used the leftover paint from our bedroom to paint the lumber for the beds. Just to make sure there were no issues, I only painted the outsides.

While J was gone, we basically had two big dirt boxes for the kids to play in, which they absolutely loved, as did I because it provided literally hours of entertainment and kept the soil nice and tilled until it came time to plant.  I knew that this first year I wasn't going to do anything from seed. Not only had I already waited a little too long to start that, but I just have a pretty brown thumb.While J was gone, my aunt and uncle also send me some bare root peach trees. I kept four for myself (one of each variety) and passed the rest on to neighbors and friends. Of the four, two are doing well, and we'll use the holes that we dug for the other two to put in posts for raspberries next year.

Upon J's return, a trip to Home Depot yielded pepper, strawberry, tomato, basil and onion plants. I got six varieties of Tomato (only one of which was heirloom because I'd read they can be tricky), four varieties of pepper and two strawberry. For the onions, I chose Walla Walla Sweets because, well, we live in Walla Walla.

After a few weeks of growth, the tomato cages were added, and peach trees were in.

Henry and Charlie had given me petunia and marigold plants from school as their Mother's Day gifts, so those went in the strawberry beds, along with several others we'd purchased. A few weeks later, I realized that Henry must have planted something other than marigolds at school because we had this growing right in the middle of the strawberry bed:

Today, our garden looks like this, and I'm having fun learning along the way. 

Strawberry bed with four rhubarb starts brought to be by a girlfriend during her last trip home to Montana.

Ya like the hot spots from our pooch?
This Fall, we're having the yard aerated and overseeded to try and get back to a nice uniform green and next spring, we'll be re-doing our sprinkler system so that it works around the beds, a soaker system in the beds, and a drip system in the beds that will be dug around the perimeter of the house so that the sod is no longer touching the foundation.

When we first moved here, I thought having a blank slate for a yard was going to be amazing, but it turns out, it's pretty overwhelming. Though I must say that with each project we complete, I find it harder and harder to imagine ever moving from this little place we once called a 'starter home'.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

The Peanut Gallery

When I first thought of using what was supposed to be the formal dining room as a sitting room, I always envisioned creating a large gallery wall that incorporated family photos and photos of places we'd lived. After finally finding the perfect shade of gold to paint the room, I took down the photos I had up and lovingly placed them in my closet, with the intention of completing said wall within a week of painting. It's been well over a year and I'm finally doing it. Yesterday, I went to my 40 week appointment and was told that with the high temperatures this would be a good time to have a 'restful weekend' with lots of fluid intake; perfect opportunity to tackle this simple project in the comfort of my own a/c.

Here's the 'before the photos, but after the new light fixture' view of the sitting room.
Since moving in two years ago, I've painted almost every wall in the house, and as I did I gathered the frames from the other areas of the house that would go into the wall, and added them to the growing pile in the closet. Last fall when we had our first professional photo shoot as an entire family, I intended to order prints immediately and get going on the wall. Again, best laid plans.

Fast forward to me standing with my t minus 1 day belly in an argument with the photo lab employee who was not going to release my photos to me without written consent from the photographer. I had a trantrum like a three year old, called my cousin (said photographer), who spoke with the employee and then emailed me on my phone. After getting a manager, they put their heads together and I scanned my phone to get a screen shot of the email from my cousin so they could put it on file. I'm giving you the short version, because if I gave the long version, I'd just get irritated again. There was no watermark on the photos and I had uploaded them from the disc I'd purchased (and had previously picked up prints from on a prior occasion without this concern of legal infringement.) Photo Lab boy thought he was very tricky when he said that he could tell they were professional because my whole family was in the photo, so I most likely didn't take them myself. I agreed that he was a logistics genius; it would, after all, be impossible to take a photo of ones own family since they've not yet invented timers or remotes. That bit of snark aside, I got my pictures and waddled home.

Part of the reason I put this off for so long is that I'm terrible about guessing where/how to hang things. I was really nervous that it would end up an ugly mish-mash of items and then I'd have a wall full of holes. By looking at pinterest for walls that I liked, and following a couple of the tips I've gleaned from reading Our Humble A{Bowe}d, I felt like I could easily lay out a wall that I'd be happy with. If you're super organized, you'll lay everything out and then trace the frames onto newspaper and hang those templates up, blah blah know that's not my style. However, I did lay all of the frames out on my bed, and then swapped and organized until I found an arrangement I liked. Which I had to repeat when I moved all of the frames to the rug in the sitting room after realizing that the bed was not even close to the right dimensions for the wall. I didn't want to have my coveted new light fixture competing with the sight line of the gallery wall from the entry way. In the end, there was only one photo that grazed the fixture, and I'm fine with it.

I woke up this morning to my sweet Charlie exclaiming, 'Henry! Come quick! I found something beautiful! Look at all these pictures!'

Without further ado, here's how it went down:

Putting them all on my bed was fine while the kids were still awake and to get a general idea, but not the right dimensions for the space.

You can see that even from the rug to the wall (photos taken at night so the light is funky), there was a little tweaking. My neighbor came over to help me eyeball it, and suggested that to make the transition from floor to wall go smoothly, I make a newspaper template of each frame, blah blah. I just looked at her and she remembered who she was talking to and started laughing. She is the perfectionist, I am the good enough girl.

As I started handing the photos to J from the rug so that he could hang the ones that needed to be mounted with a ladder, he asked if I was swapping the layout. At my confused look, he explained that I was handing him pictures from the wrong side. What? It takes my brain a little longer to transpose things from the floor pointing one direction to the wall facing another. Good times, and yet another project after which we've remained married, and even friends!

And this is what I woke up to this morning. When I walk out of my bedroom, this is what greeted me; Another project checked off of my dwindling list.

This is the view from the front door, you can see that the light doesn't interfere too much...

Such a patient observer

We started with the bottom, middle picture, and then did that entire center column and built off of it. I didn't want any really straight lines, but it was a good starting point. There is also room on either side to add photos of all three boys once this child deigns to make his appearance.

I love how this room is very open to the rest of the house, but it's become it's own little space. For a long time, I'd planned to add a small couch in there, but I don't think I will anytime soon. If I do, it will go along the wall under the photos. 

Source List:

State Love Prints: (Oregon, Massachusetts and Washington) Poppy and Pinecone on Etsy
'Lucky I'm in Love' Free Printable from Landee See, Landee Do
Photos of Portland: (Top row, second from the end on either side, and bottom right corner) purchased at Saturday Market in 2007.
Family Photos: Photography by Lee Ann
Photos of the USS Arizona, Wachusett Reservoir and Freedom Trail sidewalk marker photos were taken by me. (We never lived in Hawaii, but Jared did a rotation on Oahu and his condo overlooked Pearl Harbor).
Mirror: Random thrift store find, spray painted with Rustoleum Ivory Satin Finish (yep, there's spray paint on the glass because I'm just not careful)

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Feel the (Freezer) Burn

Taco-Filled Pasta Shells, courtesy of Taste of Home
In an effort to extend my fingertip of control, I created a massive 'Before Baby Numero Trois Arrives' list. I even broke it down into tasks to accomplish versus things to purchase. I know, I know; ridiculous. But, it's what makes me feel some semblance of order in a chaotic time. In our best efforts to have a Fall or Winter baby, we landed with a due date smack in the middle of August, creating the perfect storm of activities to surround the arrival of what everyone with 3+ children swears is 'the baby that breaks you'. Awesome.

One of the items on that list is 'make and freeze at least 10 meals', and I've never done freezer meals before. This should be fun, right?! Especially since we didn't actually have said freezer. From the time we moved into our house, we've been talking about getting a TuffShed for the side-yard to put the lawn mower and other outdoor items that have taken up residence in the second car portion of our garage. Getting said shed would free up wall space to get a freezer for the garage so we can take better advantage of our Costco membership. I love the french door/bottom drawer freezer combo we have in the kitchen, but it's not a great load-'er-up freezer.

Naturally, we decided to purchase said freezer and shed two days before my sister-in-law was coming to help me prep some freezer meals. Even more naturally, it was not in stock and would not be delivered until the day before she left, and the shed is now scheduled to be built August 30th. Ah, the best laid plans...

I had already thought about making some meals ahead of time, but she provided the motivation to actually create a plan even though we didn't get to make them together. My neighbor was a big cheerleader on the freezer front because she successfully wrangles four boys ranging in age from Kindergarten to Junior High and has homemade meals on the table even in the midst of multiple sports practices and other obligations.

Enough background, here's how it went down. If you're anything like me, you won't have time to 'make one, freeze one' over a period of several weeks' or months' worth of dinners, you need a full freezer, and you need it filled yesterday. I highly suggest the following:

  1. Give yourself three days; one day to find all the recipes and make a master grocery list of everything you need to complete all of the recipes and cross-referencing it with what you have on-hand versus what you need to purchase, one day to shop for, and organize, said supplies (including everything you'll need to actually package it for the freezer) and create a battle plan for the actual day of cooking. Lastly, you'll need one full day to spend slaving at the stove at the end of which you will smell only marginally better than those sweaty summers you spent cooking in a Mexican Health Food Restaurant that did not have air conditioning. No, it wasn't pretty.
  2. Plan this around a birthday or other major holiday so that your boys are stoked to spend a lot of unattended time with new lego sets or, if you're lucky/planful enough, when you have someone to take your kids for the day or a spouse who's not working. I didn't have either, so Legos it was. 
  3. Have something to motivate yourself with at the end of the day, even if you will be too tired to use it. Did I have the energy to drag my booty to the salon for the pedicure I promised myself? Hells no. But I did make my husband rub my feet after I showered and collapsed on the couch in the evening.
The rest is just physically doing the work; chop, sautee, brown, drain, combine, package, freeze. Chop, sautee, add liquid, bring to boil, reduce to simmer, package, freeze. Repeat according to the number of recipes. My battle plan included creating an order of recipes so that I was efficient as possible, pooling ingredients, poaching all of the chicken breasts I needed for 4,762 cups of diced cooked chicken, etc and it was still a very full day in the kitchen.

I completed ten separate recipes (not including the muffins) on the big day of cooking yesterday, then made a batch of meatballs (4 pounds of ground turkey's worth) tonight after a massive Costco haul, when I realized that if I didn't make them, I would not have room for the four cartons of orange juice and 900 containers of yogurt that I'd brought home. My freezer makes me happy when I open it and I can now work on the 'make one, freeze one' philosophy to keep things going.

I noticed in the midst of browning my eightieth pound of ground beef yesterday that I didn't have any vegetarian meals on my list for the day, which was surprising because we eat a lot of meatless meals. I think that this is partly because a) the veggie meals seem to be the ones that are easiest for me to throw together with the least amount of prep and b) I just didn't think about it, and will be able to remedy this as I double up meals in the future-such as the Butternut Squash Enchiladas with Peanut Sauce that I love.

I did, however, try to be as healthy as you can be when putting together a bunch of comfort meals to reheat at a later date. I didn't use a single can of 'cream of (fill in the blank)' soup, I tried to use organic and low sodium seasonings and stocks when available and I used organic meat, which may be a small consolation as my family is shoveling  the 900th meal into their faces that is based on ground beef. Oh well. They will be fed, and it won't be McDonald's. I'm calling this a win. 

Here's what I ended up with, by using just two sources (save one recipe); the Our Best Bites Freezer Meals Mini Cookbook (free download for Mac or PC here) and the Taste of Home Freezer Meals, which caught my eye in the check-out line last week.

Minestrone Soup
Natchitoches Meat Pies
T of H:
Taco-Filled Pasta Shells
Chicken and Potato Pot Pie (I used sweet potatoes instead of white potatoes)
6 cheese Lasagna
Meat Loaf Minis 
Lone Star Chicken Enchiladas
Baja Pork Tacos
Fully Loaded Chili
Morning Muffins
Other Source:
Turkey and Ricotta Meatballs (recipe from my sister-in-law, tripled)

And here's what it looks like, when you add in the Costco bread, muffins, eggo waffles, dino nuggets (my first time purchasing chicken nuggets for the boys in over a year) and extra butter and cheese. 

I also made labels for each item with instructions on re-heating, because there is no way I'll remember everything I was supposed to put with each meal, or how to not give my family food poisoning in doing so. If there was a time limit for use indicated, I added that to the label as well.

Oh, did I mention I also made a years' supply of jam on the morning of Day 2? Can you tell that I'm terrified to stop moving lest I have to actually think about the process of a drug-free labor?

If you're interested in starting a stock of freezer meals, or have any questions, I'd love to offer whatever advice I have, although it will be quite limited. Pinterest is also full of great ideas, and there are tons of blogs dedicated to freezer meals in general and crock-pot freezer meals specifically. It's definitely daunting, but I'm sure I'll appreciate it when I have evenings and afternoons freed up (or free to go to soccer practice at least) in those first few months of adjusting to being a mama of three.

Now to just stave off labor at least until tomorrow is over, because my boys have earned a day of simple fun, without an errand or dismissal in sight!

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Nursery Rhymes

The cluster of hanging lanterns that doubles as a mobile pays homage to our new town; they remind me of the Balloon Stampede's Night Glow.
When we started thinking about adding another cherub to our brood, one of the things that made me the most excited, shallow as it may be, was the idea of having an actual nursery for the first time. A room that was designated solely for the care and keeping of a babe. No computer, no toddler sharing their space, just a cozy space to nurse, change diapers and simply be for the first year or so of their life. 

Pinterest has been an awesome source of inspiration, and I've managed to pull from several different sources (see source list at the end), did a ton of fun DIY projects, and have created what I think is a really fun but simple room for not a ton of money. 

Here's a little tour, and I hope you like it!

The lanterns are secured with fishing line to medium sized cup hooks, which are installed with drywall anchors.

When we first moved here, a friend was getting rid of her PB Lullaby Rocker FOR FREE. I felt bad taking it for nothing, so I offered a small amount of money, and walked away one happy mama with the chair and ottoman. That chair has had a home in our bedroom, the boys' bedroom and now, the nursery. Since the chair is no longer sold by Pottery Barn, the slipcovers can be tricky to come by. After waiting on ebay for over a year for a white twill one to come up for grabs, I decided to just have one made. It's taken longer than expected, so I'll just reshoot that corner when it comes.

This dresser was given to me for free, so I added two coats of the yellow paint that I had left from my nightstands, and some satin poly. Then I sprayed the drawers out with a bleach/water solution to get rid of the slight mustiness and painted a coat of killz primer on the inner bottoms of the drawers. I then spray-painted the hardware with some white paint I had. I love it when projects are truly free! The changing pad a custom item from etsy.

This shelf has served us well, starting out in our home over H's changing table. A coat (or twenty) of aqua spray paint, and it's good as new.

Among the treasures in the boxes of crap from my youth that my mom made me clear out of her garage, I found this milk carton plaster 'sculpture' I made in Junior High. 

Gallery Wall, finally making use of the photos from the shoot we took as a family last Fall!

I debated whether or not to put this in the baby's room, because it feels very feminine to me. Sweet H to the rescue; 'It's not too girly mom! I'm a boy and my favorite color was pink until last year.'

These are the same curtains that have been in the room all along, but I added a cute bunting to make it look fresh.

I love the fact that this lamp is operated by a foot pedal. 

Remember how you felt in your twenties when you opened the drawer at Victoria's Secret to find a plethora of color for the bra style you wanted? That's how I feel about this:

My cloth diaper stash is being rounded out today with my last (ha! Does it ever really end?!) order of BumGenius arriving today. I will be using a mix of BumGenius 4.0, BumGenius FreeTime and I also ordered a few of the GroVia newborn diapers in case the bG are a little too large at first.

Source List: (more links to be added)

  1. Paint: Wheat Bread by Behr, which I had color-matched to their premium plus-it even covered the bright orange stripes I had from the robot days with the boys. Greys have been very tricky and in my house, the 'greige' family is what ends up looking the most 'grey'. I suggest testing several colors before committing to a gallon.
  2. 16 inch 'J': Wood4Decor on Etsy
  3. Teal Frames: 4-pack of Ombre frames from Target
  4. Teal Clock: Target
  5. Hand 'Family Tree': Handmade
  6. Embroidered ABC Sampler: Handmade
  7. Hanging Paper Lanterns: Cost Plus/World Market Battery Operated Lanterns (a 4-pack each of the blue and yellow and a 3-pack of the multi-shaped white)
  8. Crib: Gulliver from IKEA (please note, it's a SHORT crib, which I ended up really liking)
  9. Crib Bedding: Not a Peep from Land of Nod (sheet and reversible bumper only)
  10. Stuffed Knit Bear: Handmade
  11. Aqua rug: Do Your Room by Wal-Mart
  12. Paper Floor Lamp: Cost Plus/World Market
  13. Rocker: PB Lullaby Rocker with Denim Slipcover (discontinued)
  14. Accent Pillow on chair: Target
  15. Linen swaddler: Aden + Anais
  16. Folding Metal Table: Cost Plus (outdoor table)
  17. Nursing Stool: Kidkraft purchased on amazon
  18. Basket on changing table shelf: Target
  19. Changing Pad Cover: Little Owl's Nest on etsy
  20. White/Grey/Yellow bunting over curtains: Land of Nod
  21. Origami Crane in window: Target (it's actually a plastic napkin holder :))