Monday, November 5, 2012

I Should Be Napping

Addy is asleep. New baby Will is sleeping downstairs with a full belly, hanging out with daddy. But since I'm laying here wide awake, let's chat about new babies. Does anything really beat new baby snuggles? New baby soft skin? New baby smell - well, you know, the good ones? Seriously, it's baby crack around here, 24 x 7.

I know, there is all that work too. And we are tired. Too tired to sleep sometimes. And then there is recovering from labor. And the labor. But still. When you get that baby crack, those other parts are much easier to handle.

So here's to baby crack. And my supplier, new baby Will.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Pinterest Project: Popsicle Matching Game

When I was pregnant with Addy, I remember experiencing that "nesting" energy that a lot of women report having in your third trimester.  You have a lot of anxiety about having the baby, but you are not in control of the situation by any means.  So instead, you take control of whatever you can - and for the first baby, for me this was in the form of suddenly feeling the need to organize, clean, and just generally get ready for the baby.  Put together pack n' plays.  Set up changing stations.  Obsess about onesies.

But for me, the second baby was a little different.  I still felt that same nesting energy, but things were much more ready than the first time.  It didn't take much to get the supplies I needed.  We already had pretty much any clothes, blankets, equipment, etc., that we would need.  I did wash them, but then I was done.

So part of my nesting energy this pregnancy went towards finishing up projects that I had started or bought materials for, and this fun little popsicle matching game for Addy was one of them.  She has been really getting into her colors lately, so I thought this would be another fun way to reinforce the idea.

The project was pretty simple. I cut out a pattern for the popsicle, and then commenced tracing and cutting it out of each color.  I thought I might as well make some extras for gifts this Christmas, and the size/shape that I ended up with allowed me to make four sets out of one standard piece of felt (the kind you find already cut for you at Joann's - I think they were like 33 cents each).

The next step was sewing all the little pouches together.  As you can probably tell from the end result pictured at the top, my sewing is definitely not stellar, but this was good practice in sewing curves.  And I'm guessing that my young recipients won't notice my not-so-smooth turns, either.

The last step was to add the colors and writing to the sticks; one side has a square of the corresponding color and the other side has the actual word.  I bought some popsicle craft sticks at Marc's for less than a buck, which was a good find.  I had to borrow an orange highlighter from my neighbor, but I managed to find some sort of marker or sharpie for every color I needed. 

And that was it!  I cranked out four sets of these in maybe an hour, and if I spent $5 on the materials I would be surprised, so I am calling this a worth while project.  I'm so proud of myself when I actually make something that I see on Pinterest instead of just surfing for another hour and finding more ideas.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Breaking the Breakfast Rut - Baked Oatmeal Cups

I tend to get in breakfast ruts.  Months have gone by in which I have eaten the same thing every day in the morning.  Lately it has been strawberry yogurt with corn chex in it.  I guess I should say corn chex style cereal, since I've been getting it from Aldi's.  Sometimes if we have strawberries or blueberries, those will get tossed in, which is a big treat.  But needless to say, it's been pretty boring.

So I needed some breakfast inspiration and found one on Pinterest - this amazing baked oatmeal.  Of course I had to make it gluten free, but Bob's Red Mill has gluten free rolled oats at Marc's for a decent price, so that part was easy.

I love the fact that you can make different varieties of these in the same batch.  I've done some with chocolate chips, walnuts, pecans, blueberries, and combinations of all of those things together.  I've even left some plain and they are still very tasty because of the applesauce and banana in the base recipe.  Addy loves them, and they are a great alternative for toddlers since they can be cut up into pieces and eaten easily without the mess of traditional oatmeal.

Notes about the recipe... I made my version with honey instead of stevia, and it makes waaaay more than a dozen.  I have been getting at least two dozen and usually about 30 or so out of one batch.  They freeze and reheat great, so I haven't minded the large batches at all.  I just pop them in the fridge the night before and then the toaster oven in the morning.

We've had fun using the mini muffin tin too (as seen in the picture above), but it makes them even more snackable which is dangerous (particularly the chocolate chip ones).  I also have found that I like to bake them for longer, usually 40/45 minutes, to get them nice and firm. If you like traditional oatmeal or are planning to put milk over them, the time called for on the recipe is probably right.  I like mine more in the muffin category than in the oatmeal category consistency wise.

So this has all the bases covered - not too complicated, whole foods without much sugar, easy to make, makes a lot and freezes well... definitely something that I will be making for a long time.

And this is my kitchen after getting the first batch in the oven with my 16 month old "helping."
It didn't take too long to throw together, so not too bad of a war zone at all!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

An Update on Mind Organization for Moms and Link to Program Giveaway

I've done a couple posts so far on the Mind Organization for Moms system (M.O.M for short), and I am still a big fan, using it every day.  It's a great way to think of your to-do list in a less intimidating, organized fashion without too much extra work.

This week, April Perry from The Power of Moms (where the M.O.M. program comes from) did a guest post on Simple Mom titled "Eliminating the 'sticky points' of the day."  She does a great job of explaining one of the main ideas behind system that I really love - the context based lists. 

For example, I was at Target last night getting new socks for Addy.  This definitely needed to get done this week; the weather has started cooling down and the girl needs to learn how to wear shoes and socks.  Anyway, I digress.  I looked at the other items on my Errands list, and I remembered I wanted to buy her another green sheet for her new bed.  Booyah, two errands knocked out at one time.

One thing that has changed about how I use the system since my last update is that I've gone paperless with my lists.  I'm now using Astrid, a great little task app, and so far it is working out great.  The fact that I miss being able to physically cross things off on a piece of paper has been overshadowed by always having an up-to-date list wherever I am.  You can access it on your phone, your iPad, or any computer through the web.  And it's free.

Astrid makes it easy to use the context-based lists (as you can see on the left side of the screen shot below - this is actually from my iPad, but looks pretty much the same on my iPhone).  Anything that is on my list for this week gets a due date so it will show up on the top (and also in the My Tasks list). Anything I'm not focusing on this week has no due date and shows up below the line.


Simple Mom and The Power of Moms are giving away 100 free programs to boot, so click over and check it out if you are at all interested in taking some steps to organize your never ending to-do list.

To catch up on my experiences with implementing and using the system, check these out:
  • My initial post about Mind Organization for Moms talking about my experience in learning about the M.O.M. system and what I liked about it.
  • My follow up post talking about a piece of the M.O.M. system, the weekly review.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Cloth Wipes - An Update

Back in August, I posted my plan for trying cloth wipes again. Having been a little discouraged by them not working the way I wanted, I had a few more things that I wanted to try to see if it could be a more sustainable process. I am happy to report the end result a success, but I did have a few trials and errors along the way.

I made some wipes out of an old receiving blanket, and I thought they turned out rather well. I don't have a surger, so I just used a zig zag stitch and tried to get as close to the edge of the cloth as possible. It was a great little project to practice sewing a straight line. Here is how they turned out:
 
 
And here is what they looked like after they were washed the first time:

Not nearly as neat and tidy anymore! Apparently I didn't get as close to the edges as I really needed, which allowed for some unraveling.  I trimmed them up and they turned out much better after each subsequent wash. So overall, a fine tool for something that is going to wipe up poo. No frills needed, and a little unraveling isn't going to bother me.

However, these wipes have the same problem that my flannel BumGenious ones have - they just don't remove the poo very well. I'm still not 100% sure if it is the wipe or the solution, but tiny pieces/residue just hang onto Addy's skin and won't come off. I end up grabbing a disposable wipe and which finishes up the job in two seconds.

Then I stole some of the thinnest washcloths from our stash of kitchen clean up cloths. Wow, so much better! I absolutely love them, and they work fantastically, usually only requiring two washcloths max, even for the largest of messes.

I also bought two small (I think eight ounce) bottles from Old Time Pottery for $2 each to use for the solution.  They look like a sport bottle that you would drink out of, and are made out of a squeezable plastic.  Having two has been great because by the time I refill one of them, the other one is almost empty, so it gives me time to keep up with making solution.  Yes, I know this is a 5 minute job (max), so it's not hard to keep up with it, but you know how it is - anything that takes effort needs to be as simple as possible or I just do it.  I think each bottle is currently lasting about a week or so.

I've been putting washcloths in an old wipes container and then squeezing some solution on them.  The bottles are small enough to fit in the diaper drawer with the wipes box.  I have stopped folding the washcloths since I end up wadding them up in the box anyway (easier than folding them I think).  It actually ended up looking a lot like Emily's description from Simple Homemade.

So I am happy to be back to using the cloth wipes again - both from a greener living and a practicality perspective.  No more picking poopy wipes out of a diaper for me!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Owl Love and Pinterest Craftiness in Action

I love the owl craze that seems to have happened. You can find cute owls popping out in the kitchen isle, the bedding isle - basically for any room of your house. Etsy is brimming with little owl bags, jewelry, and shirts. So when we were thinking of decorating ideas for Addy's new room, I immediately wanted to incorporate owls somehow.


I found this sweet little guy on Etsy from Fancy Prints for the Home. I ended up getting the full set of three, so the owl thing didn't take the whole center stage of the room, but isn't he super cute?


And then I saw this idea on Pinterest to make a little owl out of felt, which seemed cheap and something fun to put on her shelf. And can you believe it, I actually made it the other day! I know, I could hardly believe it myself. Isn't Pinterest just for spending hours finding great ideas, and then feeling bad that you never actually make anything you find?

So check out the link for the whole tutorial, but here are a few of my own tips to add if you decide to try it:

- I think the person that wrote the instructions got a little confused with their owl one and owl two directions, but basically one of the owls has a larger mask than the other one, so you have to do more feathers for owl two (the one with a smaller eye mask).

- The instructions say to push the foam ball flat on one side. I am probably just a big wimp, but I used a bread knife and cut a little sliver off the bottom of mine instead. It made for a nice base so it didn't tip over.

- I also made my eyes/mask first and sat it on the ball to see how much I wanted to do for the chest feathers vs. the back feathers, and how far up I needed to layer them.

- I'm assuming that there is a standard size for felt squares, but I almost needed another square for the back feathers. I think for owl two, should I decide to make it, I will get two squares for that particular color, since there will probably be more feathers without that larger eye mask.

And here was my end result. Super cute right? I asked my amateur photographer husband to take some pictures for me - I loved them and couldn't decide which one to use, so you get them both. Maybe it will motivate you more to go make your own little owl.


Thursday, August 2, 2012

Using Cloth Baby Wipes - Breaking it Down

One annoying thing that I found about using cloth diapers was the wipes. The main issue being: what do you do with regular, disposable wipes if you are cloth diapering? If you were using a disposable diaper, you would just wrap up the dirty diaper with the wipes inside and throw it away. If you are using cloth, you have to separate them from the diaper and then throw them away, which is annoying. I didn't really like having another trash can sitting next to the changing table for the wipes along with the diaper pail. And isn't that part of the whole point of cloth diapers, to minimize your (stinky) trash? You are already washing the diapers, it didn't seem like a big deal to throw in the wipes too.

So from early on, I decided to try cloth wipes out. Before I talk about my experiences, let me break it down for you.

How Does It Work
In doing some research, there seemed to be two methods:
1. Keep the wipes dry and use a spray bottle of solution. You then can either spray the wipe when you need one or spray the dirty bum directly.
2. Keep the wipes in a container already wet and ready to go. For this option, popular container options include either a wipe warmer, a plastic container that normal wipes come in, or some other Tupperware-ish thing.

Solution Options
For either method, you need a solution to wet the wipes. Here, you can:
1. Buy a product that is ready to use; these often come in a spray bottle and are generally the most expensive option.
2. Buy a product that is concentrated and needs to have water and/or witch hazel added.
3. Make your own solution with one of the many recipes floating around on the web.

Wipes OptionsFor this, some options I've seen include:
1. Purchasing cloth wipes, usually flannel.
2. Using baby washcloths.
3. Making your own out of fabric or a receiving blanket.

I decided to buy Kissaluvs Diaper Lotion Potion, which is a concentrate, and using a spray bottle with a stack of dry BumGenius Flannel baby wipes. When Addy was smaller and exclusively breastfeeding, it worked great. I would either spray the wipe or her actual bottom, and I liked the fact that I could make the wipe as wet as I wanted. Sometimes I felt like the commercial wipes were way too wet, and I just wanted her to be dry after this process was done. I found a small spray bottle that I carried around in my diaper bag, which worked out great too.

It surprised me how long a bottle of the spray would last, and I also found that I didn't need to use much of the Kissaluvs concentrate to make the solution work well. I used filtered water from our Brita pitcher, one long squirt of witch hazel, and maybe 10 drops or so of the concentrate. I do think that the concentrate was a decent investment, and that you couldn't buy all of those oils separately for less money. The bad news is that finding good spray bottles is strangely difficult (I've found this with making my own cleaning solutions for the house too); I've had like 3 die out on me and stop working.

But when Addy started eating solid food and her poop changed, I found that I was back to wanting those super wet commercial wipes! The spray was just not enough, and I didn't think they were getting her clean enough. I went back to using the disposable wipes for a while and basically got lazy, but I've been wanting to get back to using cloth. So here is my plan to try to get back into using them:

1. Make more wipes out of some receiving blankets. I want enough wipes to last two days, which is how often I wash diapers.
2. Try pouring the solution on the them in an old wipe container, which should make them more wet.
3. Try using some washcloths as wipes, because I think they will wipe cleaner and smoother.
4. Get a at least two, maybe three squeeze bottles to fill with solution. That should mean I am making solution no more than once a week, and I can just squeeze it on the wipes whenever I need to refill.

I am hopeful that this will work, but I will keep you updated on my progress. All I know is that I'm tired of picking dirty, commercial wipes out of poopy diapers and putting them in my bathroom trashcan. :-P

Here are some of the links that I found during my research as well as links to products that I have used:

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Gluten Free Cinnamon Swirl Bread...And a Big Belly

As far as gluten free all-purpose flours go, my favorite by far has been Jules Gluten Free flour.  I have used it in a lot of her recipes (she has a great cook book Nearly Normal Cooking for Gluten Free Eating), but I have also had a lot of success using her flour in regular, non-gluten free recipes too.  I think it acts the most like wheat all-purpose flour of any that I've tried, and it also has a year-long shelf life, unlike a lot of the organic flours that go bad quickly.

The other day she blogged about a reader's recipe for cinnamon swirl bread so I decided to try it.  My lovely neighbor had been talking about some gluten free coffee cake she had on vacation so I was in the mood for something yummy, and I had all of the ingredients.  So at nap time, I got busy.

The batter was super thin so I was a little worried at this point.

You are supposed to pour in half the batter, then sprinkle the sugar
and cinnamon mixture, then pour on the other half of the batter.  Well, I poured a
little too much in initially, so my cinnamon mixture didn't get covered up very well.
I used a knife to do some swirly things and hoped for the best.

Look how pretty it turned out!  And can I say it tasted just as good as it looked.

And finally, one of the hazards of baking while pregnant.
You have a shelf for flour and things to land on your shirt.
I know, I was only 24 weeks pregnant when I took this.
I know, I have a while to go until October 29th. :-P

Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Weekly Review Unraveled

As I mentioned in my post about the M.O.M. system, the weekly review is one of my favorite elements of the process. I recently went a week and a half without doing my review, and I felt like I was forgetting stuff all week. I think this is a great idea and something that anyone could implement and feel good about very quickly (even without doing the whole M.O.M. type of system). It's not as complicated as it sounds - here is what mine looks like:
Once a week, I do the following:

  1. I bring the following items to the couch: my bin of files and supplies, my planner, the drawer from the sofa table (the house "in box"), and the recycle bin. These are all within about a dozen feet of each other, so not a big deal. I take a minute to sweep the other places in the house where papers accumulate, including my wallet, the refrigerator, etc.

    The weekly review zone- laptop, planner, file box and recycling bin,
    and inbox of stuff to go through.  Snack optional. Especially this incredibly
    nutritious snack of kettle chips and a caffeine free Pepsi.  Mmmm.
  2. I "process" all of the papers. Coupons are cut and filed. Receipts are put in a folder so they are together when it's time to do finance stuff. Trash goes in the recycle bin. Things I need to do are entered into the correct list in my planner (if I need to do it this week, it goes in the Immediate Next Actions list. If not, it goes on one of the other ones.). If I need to keep a piece of paper it gets filed into the folder for the month in which it needs to be addressed (i.e., a wedding invitation for October goes in the October file; a bill due this month goes in this month's file, etc.). Some things will also be entered as events on my calendar (i.e., the wedding). Eventually the drawer is empty.

    *Important note: I don't actually take time to do any tasks unless it will take less than a couple minutes. This is key - you don't want to get bogged down in actually completing tasks. You just want to have a good list of what you need to do when you are done.
  3. I continue to "process" other inboxes, including my email, Facebook account, voicemail, etc. - anywhere that may have something that I need to do. This may be a difficult task if you haven't taken time to minimize the number of locations that you have coming at you. Figure out how you can create a "house inbox", even if it is literally a box on the kitchen counter.  
  4. I review the content of current month's folder to make sure that I'm not missing anything that needs to happen now.
  5. I update my Google calendar and print out two copies, one for my planner and one for the refrigerator. Lately I've also been printing out a weekly view too, just for readability sake, for the fridge.
In the end, I have the list of things that I need to do over the upcoming week and an accurate calendar. More importantly, I have a high confidence that all of the things I need to do have been uncovered. After you do this a couple times (the first time is obviously the worse, since you probably have crap sitting around everywhere), it doesn't take too long. I did this today in about 20 minutes, mostly because I didn't do it last week. I feel soooooo much better today now. Try it and see what you think.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Garage Sale Finds

I love garage sales.  I should really spend more time planning ahead for things I know I'm going to need and go to more of them.  Check out the stash I got recently:
  • 6 18-month sleepers, most of them Carters
  • 2 18-month Carters outfits
  • An Osh Kosh snow suit with a coat and the suspender/pants piece to go underneath
  • A Sony monitor like the one we already have for the new baby's room
  • A baggie of spoons to try with little miss (no, she still hasn't eaten a bite out of them yet, she just wants to play)
This was actually a neighborhood garage sale that my mom saw a sign for, but we got all of this from two houses.  And I paid...ready?  A grand total of $18.  Seriously?!?  I am so excited.

The loot...everything is in great shape.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Asian Chicken Lettuce Wraps

In one of the emails from our CSA farmers, Lisa mentioned if we were tired of salads to use the lettuce for some Asian style lettuce wraps.  Matt and I both love those things when we've eaten them out, so I thought I would take a swing at it.  I was also thinking it may be a win with Addy since the chicken would have some sort of sweet sauce on it.

As it turned out it was also a great thing to make during Addy's nap since there was a lot of chopping and prepping.  First I chopped up the chicken and cooked it with a little oil, garlic, and chopped ginger.  Man I love the smell of fresh ginger.  It makes me want to clean the house with it.  Is that possible?  Hm, I'll have to look that up.

Then I chopped up some CSA green onions and beet greens, and a can of water chestnuts.  I know, beet greens - sneaky right?


Then I let it all hang out in the fridge until closer to dinner time.  When the time came, I threw some rice in the rice cooker and heated up the chicken and veggies with a pretty simple Asian sauce that Lisa included in her email:

¼ cup soy sauce

1/8 cup rice wine vinegar
2 TBS brown sugar
A few shakes of sesame seed oil

She also said to use freshly grated ginger root, but I left that out since I cooked the chicken in it.

The results were awesome!  Yummy, yummo.  The sauce is honestly one of the best homemade sauces I've had, and so great because you can make it gluten free very easily (just make sure you get GF soy sauce like La Choy which you can find in any grocery).  A lot of Asian bottled sauces have wheat in it, so this recipe was a great little find.


Addy even ate the chicken and loved it.  It was funny to watch her try to eat the rice and tiny chopped up veggies - she hates to eat little things and kept flinging them off her hands onto the floor.  We tried the spoon and bowl again but that just invokes playing.  But the chicken was a hit.


And as usual my pictures don't do it justice, but check out that pretty CSA lettuce!  Very attractive stuff.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Cute Wallet from Sew to Speak Intro Class

The cute little store Sew to Speak is literally at the end of my street.  I have stopped in numerous times, window shopping, ooing and awing over all the cute, finished projects sitting around the room and fun bolts of fabric covering the walls.  I even asked for a book of projects for Christmas from there, but of course I haven't tried to make anything yet. 

So with baby #2 on the way, I decided it was time to put up or shut up with a sewing project, or I may not do it for a long time.  I still felt like my machine was a little bit foreign (every time I've had to thread my machine I have to pull out the manual), so I decided to take the intro to machine sewing class that they offer.  The project for the class was a little wallet with a snap closure, and even had interfacing involved, so it seemed like a lot of good elements would be covered.

Michelle taught my class and she was so great!  There were only four students in the class, which allowed her to give everyone the time that we needed individually.  She didn't seem annoyed with anyone's beginner questions, and she went over some helpful information (I now know what basting is and how to find the grain of fabric).  We threaded and rethreaded our own machines, wound a bobbin, and did some practice sewing before we even touched our project materials, which gave me more confidence when we got started on our wallets.

And seriously, look how cute it turned out!  I was impressed that I even finished something, let alone something that I will actually use and be proud to show people.  I bought the fabric, interfacing, and snap closure at the store, and got my thread at Joann's.




The only bad thing was that I didn't end up using my machine for the class.  Something is wrong with it that I'm hoping can be fixed, because it's only two years old and has been used a half dozen times or so on little projects.  Michelle messed around with some tension settings and suggest I take it back to where I bought it, also saying she hasn't seen many people have good luck with the lower end Singer machines. 

So I'm super bummed about that, but hopefully the Singer store I where I bought it will be good about taking a look at it.  I'm hopeful that it's something that can be easily fixed, and fast, because now I want to take on more projects!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Pink Pancakes? WOW, Yeah, Pink Pancakes.

Continuing with the idea of trying to use my CSA goodies in more creative ways, I was super excited to find the recipe in Deceptively Delicious for Pink Pancakes.  In this one she uses beet puree, which is good as I'm finding it difficult to eat beets.  Well, I should say, I roasted them last time and I thought they were gross.  Maybe too much thyme.  Anyway.

So when she says pink, holly cow does she mean pink!  Here is the batter before I added the pancake mix and the apples.  Isn't it crazy that you should eat anything that color?  And that is the part that's making it somewhat nutritious?


And of course I had to go and jack up the recipe by making it gluten free.  I used gluten fee Bisquick, and it turned out pretty well.  I did end up adding extra water because the batter was super thick.  I'm not sure if that was because of the GFness or just how the recipe was supposed to turn out.  But I've never had good luck with thick pancake batter; the insides never seem to get done.

It looked even more crazy in the black, cast iron skillet.



So the results were mixed.  The pancake batter tasted great.  The vanilla was really nice and masked the flavor of the beets, which were hardly noticeable.  But again, I have the worst time with pancakes!   I just couldn't get them done in the middle.  Maybe I need a griddle?  I used both the cast iron and a non-stick just to get them done faster, and I had the same problem with both.  If you have some advice, please let me know.



So the conclusion on this one is that next time I will use the batter with my waffle maker and I think they will totally rock.  It has a little light that turns green when the waffle is done, which apparently is more my style.

Matt really liked them and thought that the beet flavor was pretty distant, although he said every once in a while he got a bigger taste of it (I think it was mental...).  Addy ate about a half a pancake before she gave up and wanted to move on to something else, so I am calling it a success.  I gave her this little one to try at the end of the meal and she actually bit into it.  Of course right after this picture she shoved it all in her mouth and promptly spit it out.  But I'm not counting that one, I'm only counting the first half she actually ate.


Sunday, July 8, 2012

Gluten Free Pesto Pizza - Bought and Homemade Reviews

If you are gluten free, you know that pizza can be a struggle. I have tried on and off for years now to try to make a decent homemade pizza crust, and at best have only been slightly successful. The dough is usually crazy sticky and difficult to deal with, and baking it correctly so it's not burnt on the edges but done on the inside has never seemed to be my forte.

And then there is the issue of toppings.  To me, homemade pizza just never tastes as good as something that comes from a real pizza place.  Homemade ones can be good in their own right, but it's just never the same.  Although, I also always think that any salad or grilled cheese sandwich that is made for me, by someone else, always tastes better, so maybe it's that whole phenomena going on.  At any rate, I digress...

A while back, we got some pizzas from Z Pizza up the street, across from the Graceland shopping center. They offer a gluten free crust, so I was excited to try it and support the new local spot.  I have to say that the pizza was fantastic.  We got pesto, kalamata olives, and garlic as toppings, which was a very fun combo.  The crust was thinner but had a nice crunchy/chewy thing going on.  Of course it was a little pricey, but it really was spectacular, so it was worth it.  After further research, they seem to also use all organic ingredients, which helped the price tag I'm sure, but also contributed to the extreme yumminess.

So after making my own homemade pesto sauce, I decided that I needed to try making some gluten free pizza crust at home again.  I was at Marc's, and they had a Bob's Red Mill gluten free pizza crust mix in their little health food/organic isle, so I decided to try it.  In my experience Bob's usually makes decent stuff, and I decided that trying a mix versus making my own from scratch may take some of the guess work out of the equation.

I was very pleasantly surprised at how easy the crusts were to make and how good they turned out.  I honestly think it was one of the best I've made yet.  The edges were a little crispy and the center was done.  It turned out to be a little thicker style crust than the Z's Pizza, but I think I could have done a better job at smoothing/thinning it out.  The mix also makes enough to make two large pizzas, so even though the bag may seem a little expensive, it is a better buy for the money.

Look, crispy crusts!  The little one was for Addy.
She just got spaghetti sauce, cheese, and tomatoes.
Oh, and those other things were roasted beets.  Yuck.

The end result with my pesto, mozzarella, sun dried tomatoes, artichokes, and cut up grape tomatoes was really good!  I think next time I will use less pesto; when the pesto heated up, the oils really got flowing and there was a lot more on there than I realized.  But the flavors were great, and the crust held up well.

So my excitement for homemade pizza has been refreshed.  I'm still tempted to try making my own from scratch again, but we'll see - the fact that they sell Bob's at Marc's is pretty tempting, now that I know how easy it was and how well it turned out.

What do you think?  Makes me hungry again.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

My New Floating Office

Since we are currently expecting Baby Dixon #2 (Yes, my existing baby is only 12 months old. Yes, we know what causes that. Yes, they will only be 17 months apart. Yes, we did that on purpose.), we are in the process of converting our old office/spare bedroom into Addy's new room. We came to this decision without much heartburn, as we really didn't use the room very much anyway. My mom now lives here in town, so we rarely have overnight guests. Matt used that closet for about 75% of his clothes, so those had to be moved into the master bedroom's closet and dressers, which was easy enough (another post to come about the closet consolidation and minimizing our clothes, which was an eye opening experience on it's own).

Then there was the "office" part of the room. We had a desk that housed stationery, cards, and paper that needed a home. It also held a lot of other random stuff that seemed to belong someplace else. There was a TV on the desk that rarely got used, so we decided to move it into our bedroom (I know, I know, tsk tsk for the TV in the bedroom thing...) and see if we would use it there.

Then I started looking around the house for other office supplies. We've had an issue finding a spot for our printer/scanner, which at this point was barely being used because of the inconvenience of digging it out of the basement. The stamps were in the kitchen junk drawer.  The computer lived in the living room, which is where I typically do bills (not at the desk in the office, mind you). When I need to work on the finances, I had to run around the house gathering up things first. Then I'd run around the house putting it all back when I was done. 

So all of this prompted what I'm calling the new, floating office in our living room. Here is what it looks like.

The first new addition was a bookshelf where we used to have an old upright piano. I loved looking at the piano, but no one ever played it. We need all of our space for productive purposes now, so the piano had to go. We gave it to someone that is going to use it for music therapy for their son, so even better. There are some personal items on the shelf, but about half of it is being used for things that used to be in our desk.

The other big investment was a wireless printer, and oh my gosh, I love it. We can print from the laptop or iPad anywhere in the house. It feels incredibly luxurious. It is a bit big, but it fits on the shelf just fine. And like I said, we need our space to work for us, not just be pretty; but being wireless, it does minimize the cords going every which way. 

Also on the shelf is my bin of files. This is part of the M.O.M. system, but also holds four zippered bags (some are pencil cases I got at the dollar store and some are plastic bags that sheets/pillow cases came in) for the following:
  1. Grocery coupons
  2. Store/restaurant coupons, gift certificates
  3. Receipts that need to be processed when I sit down to do bills
  4. Supplies, including checkbooks, a pen, scissors, and stamps
(And wow, please forgive my elementary photography with my even more crappy looking captions.  Oh how I miss having Photoshop.)

The second big piece of the floating office is the sofa table. The right drawer hides the house's inbox and directly underneath it sits a recycling bin. Most importantly, this station is right next to the front door in the living room. It is just as easy to throw mail in these two spots as it is to throw it anywhere else. The laptop usually sits somewhere on top or underneath this table as well.

The third piece are two boxes in the front coat closet. The white one holds new checkbooks, a spindle of blank CDs, and my husband's business cards. The colorful box on top are extra greeting cards for birthdays, thank yous, so sorry that your life sucks, etc.  The other things are non-office stuff.

All of these things are within about eight feet of each other in the living room, which as I mentioned, is where most of the "office" tasks happen anyway. Most of the items are portable enough that they can be carried around the house to wherever we need to work.

What do you find to be the most important part of your home office?  Would you benefit from a less traditional office space?

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Mind Organization for Moms - A New Method for Your Task List

I have always been a big list maker.  In my previous work I was a project manager, and one of my favorite parts of the job was tracking things by making calendars, action item lists, and other tools to help keep the team, tasks, and deliverables organized.  Yes, I was one of those dorks who lived by my Franklin Covey planner for a long time.  Nothing was more exciting than breaking out that new pack of task lists and calendars at the beginning of the year!

In my personal life, I am usually pretty good at keeping an updated to-do list and checking things off.  When I decided to be a stay-at-home mom, I was kind of excited about being the project manager of the house with some serious lists and organizing.  But I haven't really been happy with any system that I've come up with.  I have tried keeping electronic lists and calendars in a variety of programs including Evernote, my Yahoo email account, my Gmail email account, and other random programs on the iPad.  I've tried keeping paper lists on the fridge or in the drawer with the bills.  Nothing seemed to encompass my whole mental list, and I never seemed to have the list where I wanted it when I needed it.  I also was often overwhelmed by the length of the list, and only a few things seemed to get checked off.  I was left feeling like I wasn't getting anything done and forgetting important things.  This was so not me!

So a while back, Simplemom.net had a post (that I can't seem to find now, but here is the info on the M.O.M. site) about the Mind Organization for Moms program (M.O.M. for short).  From the site, the author April Perry describes the program as "...a mom-specific adaptation of David Allen’s best-seller Getting Things Done®.  It’s designed to help you handle all the papers, emails, tasks, and projects you have on your plate."  This tag line alone was enough to get me interested in reading it.  I was thinking that I would at least read the shorter overview paper, maybe get a few tips, and just get back into being a little more productive and organized.

After reading the overview of the program, I was intrigued enough to read the long version, an 86 page PDF.  I found that there are some things that I really love about this system:
  • It pulls together all of spots where things end up that you need to attend to.  You have your snail mail pile.  You have invitations and other things on the refrigerator.  You have receipts in your wallet.  You have messages in your email inbox (somewhere, because there are so many messages, that the only ones you see are the 20 on the first page) .  You have invitations and messages on Facebook.  I didn't even realize how much stuff collects in so many places, taking mental energy to remember.  This system brings it all together.
  • In the end, you have a list of things you have to do now, and a bunch of other lists of things you want to do later.  And you don't have to worry about the things you are going to do later, because they are on the list.  You'll look at them later.
  • You also have your lists categorized.  So if you are out doing errands, let's say, and you have time for an extra one, you can look at your errand list and make another quick stop.  Boo-yah.  
Things I don't like about the system, or things that haven't seemed to really apply to me yet:
  • She suggests using a cubby system for additional paperwork and project materials.  I'm not a huge paper person, and I don't really have an office space to house a lot of stuff like that, so right now I'm not doing that piece.
  • I haven't used the idea of a goal review, which is something I probably should do, but haven't taken the time.
The main reason this whole system works well is the weekly review, which anyone who tries to keep on top of their to-do lists understands.  You have to review your tasks and "inboxes" every week, or things slip through the cracks.  


The format of my "Immediate Next Actions" list, and where I keep all of the other lists.
Yes, it is a planner.  I know, old habits die hard. But it's working. Also my current calendar
option of choice, my Google calendar printed out and updated by hand in between
electronic updates.

Going through this process has resulted in a nice little system in which to work, as well as help motivate me to keep it up.  I definitely feel:
  1. Like I've been more productive,
  2. That I'm working on the things that are most important at any given moment, and
  3. When I have a free moment, I am making the most of my time.  If I choose to.  Sometimes I choose to nap.  But if I do, I know exactly what I should be doing instead.  :-)
Does anyone have any fun tips on staying organized (or staying motivated to be productive) with your personal task list?

Monday, June 18, 2012

Spinach Chicken Nuggets

I'm trying to get a little more creative in coming up with food for my little miss to eat. She has been eating sooooo much more since we ditched the formula, it is crazy.  It is hard to come up with a variety of things that 1) she can feed herself, since she won't really let us feed her anymore, 2) don't require her to use a spoon, because that just isn't working yet, and 3) she can chew with five teeth.

I borrowed Jessica Seinfeld's Deceptively Delicious cookbook from the library hoping to find some inspiration.  Her basic concept is to puree veggies and sneak them into foods that your kids already eat; she usually lists multiple vegetables that can be used in each recipe as well. 

Since Addy seemed to like the chicken nuggets we had at her birthday party, I decided to try making a healthier version from the book. I had a giant container of spinach in the fridge that was on it's last leg, so I decided to use it for the puree this time. Matt also had a loaf of lite wheat bread that wasn't going to make it much longer, so I decided to use that to make the bread crumbs. I know a more nutritious bread would have made them even better, but I'm all about not wasting food.

So I tore the bread up in batches and toasted it in the oven at 300 degrees. 


When it was nice and dry, I threw it into the food processor. Voila, bread crumbs.

Meanwhile I took the spinach in batches and steamed it for a few seconds in a pan of water, and threw that into the food processor.


For the nuggets, you dip the chicken in the egg/spinach mixture, and then into the breadcrumb mixture (see the recipe for all the other stuff that goes in there). The spinach definitely made for a thicker coating, but it worked. Jessica's recipe said to then fry them in a pan, but I decided to just bake them in the oven to make them a little healthier.

The result turned out better than I was expecting. They crisped up fairly well and held together, which was what I was worried about.  As leftovers they definitely need to be heated up in the toaster oven; the microwave left them super soggy and gross. I stuck the rest of them in the freezer, and I think they will probably defrost fine as long as we stick with the toaster oven.


As far as a grade from Addy, based on how she ate them I would say she gave them a B+.  The only time she totally rejected them was when I used the microwave to heat them up, and I really do not blame her.  She generally eats at least two or three of them every time we've tried them. 

So overall, I think these nuggets are a good way to get some protein and extra veggies in her at the same time.  Jessica's book has also inspired me to use up those extra baby food purees we have in the freezer.  We'll see if I can get creative.

Friday, June 15, 2012

CSA Inspired Food

The CSA is definitely helping me come up with some new ideas for things to make for dinner. The last couple weeks, I've been waiting until Tuesday to see what we get in our veggie pile before looking up recipes and deciding what to make for the week. Of course, then we all got sick and not only did nothing sound good but not much managed to get "cooked." So I'm trying to get back on course with making some good food this week.

Last week the CSA bounty was as follows:
  • Basil
  • Lettuce, both red and green
  • Beets, greens attached
  • Carrots, greens attached
  • Green onions
  • Garlic scapes - I've never seen these before, but the CSA folks said that they are the things that grow out of the ground from the garlic. They cut them off so that the plant will focus on growing the bulb itself, but you can eat and cook with the scapes like you can the bulb. Pretty cool.
And this is what I decided to do with some of it:
  • Pesto using the CSA basil, garlic scapes, and  some basil from our garden. The pesto would be for pasta one night and on a pizza one night.  Both would be served with salads to use up some of that lettuce.
  • Carrot top and quinoa soup
  • Asian chicken lettuce wraps, using the CSA lettuce, garlic scapes, green onions, and beet greens.
  • Roasted beets for salads
In and out of us all being sick, I managed to only make the pesto last week and have it on some pasta, but I am working on the the rest of it this week/weekend. Luckily all of the produce seems to be still hanging in there.

Pesto

I hate this but I took no pictures of the pesto in progress or even the finished dish, but it turned out pretty well. I started with this recipe from Ina Garten, but of course I had to alter it a bit to use some of the things I already had to save a couple bucks. I used the garlic scapes instead of the garlic, which I think actually are a bit milder than the garlic bulbs, but they still provided really good flavor. I also used (I know, this part is weird) pecans instead of walnuts, because I had them already. I just knew I wouldn't use the rest of that bag of walnuts, so I just decided to try it.

Next time, I will add the oil a batch at a time, tasting in between, because I think mine is a bit too oil laden. I know, that's what pesto is, but I think the basil to oil ratio isn't as good as the stuff I have bought in the store.

As for the pasta dish, I kept it very simple. I chopped up a can of artichokes and a half jar of sun dried tomatoes packed in oil (dang, those things are pricey - anyone know of a good place to get these on the cheap?), threw those in a pan with the cooked pasta and a few spoons of pesto.  And maybe it was that I was in the mood for some comfort food, but wow, it was so good.

Here is a picture of it after it's been in my fridge for a week, before the rest of it heads to the freezer:

So hopefully I will have some more fun stuff to show you soon.  Assuming we all stay healthy.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Spring Quinoa Salad With No Quinoa

I've been reading Gluten Free Girl and the Chef's blog on a pretty regular basis lately. She writes about some pretty amazing looking food and I'm often inspired to get in the kitchen after I read it. But when I go back to the post to look again, I feel like I used to when I would read through Martha Stewart's magazine - that in reality, the recipes are either just a little too complicated, a little too expensive for the lengthy list of ingredients, or just a little over my skill level. But I recently saw this post for Spring Quinoa Salad and it looked like something potentially more my speed, both in skill and ingredients. And with the weather heating up, the last thing I've wanted to do lately is eat some crock pot, "home cooking" type of meal (illustrated by the 3/4 of a meatloaf still in the fridge that was supposed to have been eaten by now). I decided to give this a shot and use some of the ingredients I had on hand to help the old grocery budget.

So during Addy's nap today I got motivated and pickled the onions. The recipe said to "french cut" them, and at the time I didn't want to take the 30 seconds to read about it. As I look now, it looks like I actually did a mostly french cut. I also realized that I in fact did not have the quinoa that I thought I had, so I cooked some brown rice instead.



"French cut" red onions


Pickeling liquid


Finished onions


The onions smelled great as they cooked in the briny liquid and my mouth was watering the whole time. Then I preceded to wash the pan and make rice krispie treats. :-P Very productive nap time!

Then at dinnertime I finished up the rest of the recipe. I had some lettuce from our CSA pick up this week, so I just used that. I also didn't have champagne vinegar, so I used some pear vinegar I had with some extra virgin olive oil. I did chop up some asparagus, so that part was the same.


My salad!

The result was super yummy. The rice was not nearly as complex a flavor and texture as the quinoa would have been, but the sweeter dressing was a great combo with the spicy andouille sausage. Addy loved the sausage, too, so that was a fun find. So I'm proud of myself for trying something so "foodie" - maybe I will be less intimidated to try more of their recipes now that I can say I've pickled onions.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Time Flies

Wow, no post since March? I'd like to say I've been busy, but I'm not sure that I can make that excuse. Well, an almost one year old will keep a girl busy, for sure. I can say very excitedly that I'm 16 weeks pregnant, so I think I will say that the baby has been eating up my motivation. But I'm well into the second trimester now, the baby is doing great, and energy and nausea levels have returned to normal on most days. 

So, what else has been going on?

CSA Experiment - We had our first CSA pick up this week, which I was very excited about. I know it is early, so I wasn't expecting much. We got some turnips, green onions, and some green leaf lettuce. So far we have had a salad with the lettuce and green onions, and they were tasty. I haven't figured out what I'm going to do with the turnips yet. Don't people eat turnip greens too? Hm, need to do some Googling.

Camping Experiment - We did some early camping with Addy last month. Overall it went well, but it did rain all night, which was very loud on the roof of the pop-up camper (otherwise known as Poppy) and kept us awake alot. It also got pretty chilly, so it was a good lesson in learning the best way to keep the whole camper warm. We ended up abandoning the electric heater and using the propane heat instead - after we did that, we were all very toasty. But I think Addy had a good time, and she slept very well, so we were glad to have this experiment under our belt before summer or any potentially longer trips.


Our Camping Baby

Crazy Weather - Back in March and early April we did get some crazy weather, including some big hail. I really thought the skylight in the kitchen was going to come crashing down, but that thing is obviously built to withhold some pounding. Check out some pics that Matt took of the ice.